The House Foreign Affairs Committee approved a bill to require the U.S. secretary of state to reach memorandums of understanding with all nations not party to the 1980 Hague Convention, which requires the return of kidnapped children to their habitual country of residence.
The bill, which needs full congressional approval, would seek to establish a mechanism with each country so that children would be returned within six weeks of a reported abduction.
The bill also calls on the U.S. president to take one or more counteractions if abduction cases are not resolved 180 days after Washington notifies the country to which a child has been taken.
The suggested presidential actions against “a country with a pattern of noncooperation” include the delay or cancellation of scientific and cultural exchanges as well as working, official and state visits. It further orders government agencies not to approve the export of any goods and technologies to the country involved.
“Parental child abduction is child abuse. These victims are American citizens who need the help of their government when normal legal processes are unavailable or fail,” Republican Rep. Chris Smith, the bill’s sponsor, told a hearing.
The largest number of U.S. cases involve Japan, whose courts virtually never grant custody to foreign parents. Paul Toland told the hearing he has not seen his daughter, Erika, since 2003. After her mother died, the girl has been in her maternal grandmother’s custody.