The US Department of State has published its first Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction. The statutory requirement to produce such a report every year was imposed on the Department by the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act, about which I have written before – most notably here but also elsewhere. The Act was only signed into law last year and, as such, the first report only covers cases in the last quarter of 2014. It would therefore be unwise to draw any firm conclusions from the data.
In relation to Japan, Table 2 (at page 17 of the report) shows that there were 6 new Hague Convention abduction cases reported to the Department of State of which, at the end of the reporting period, 1 was submitted to the Japanese authorities to deal with and 2 were not referred; the other 3 must still have been pending action at the year’s end. One case was ‘resolved’ as at the end of the reporting period. Figure 2 (at page 6 of the report) states that a resolved case is where:
The child is returned to the country of habitual residence, pursuant to the Hague Abduction Convention or other bilateral procedures, if applicable;
The judicial or administrative branch, as applicable, of the government of the country in which the child is located has implemented, and is complying with, the provisions of the Hague Abduction Convention or other bilateral procedures, as applicable;
The left behind parent reaches a voluntary arrangement with the other parent;
The left behind parent submits a written withdrawal of the application or the request for assistance to the Department of State;
The left behind parent cannot be located for one year despite the documented efforts of the Department of State to locate the parent; or
The child or left behind parent is deceased.
Table 2 also shows that here were 40 applications for contact over the 3-month reporting period. Of these, only 6 (14%) were resolved. This is an important indicator of the scope of the (continuing problem in Japan: many of these 40 cases are applications from left behind parents whose children cannot be returned to the States under the Convention because the abduction took place prior to the coming into force of the Convention. The contact provisions contained within the Convention, about which I recently wrote here, do apply to pre-1 April 2015 abductions if the child remains under 16.
This issue is tackled head-on in the report which contains the following extended passage on the situation in Japan (at page 26):
As an example of the USCA’s [United States Central Authority] policy of promoting Convention partnership worldwide, the USCA spent more than a decade actively pressing Japan to ratify the [Hague] Convention. The USCA maintained close contact with the government of Japan in 2012 and 2013 as Japan’s parliament prepared and passed the necessary legislation to implement the Convention. On April 1, 2014, the Convention entered into force between the United States and Japan. Since April, the USCA has developed a close and productive working relationship with the Japan Central Authority.
The USCA continues to urge Japanese action on non-Convention cases. There are still more than 50 non-Convention cases of abduction to Japan, all of which predate Japan’s ratification of the Convention. Many of these have been pending for years. In these cases, parents are not able to seek return of their children under the Convention; however as of December 31, 2014, US left behind parents have filed 31 Convention access applications. Of the few cases of which the USCA is aware in which parents have sought redress in Japanese family courts, none have resulted in either meaningful parental access or the return of the child to the United States. [Emphasis added].
The USCA and the US diplomatic mission in Japan work with the Japanese government to bring about the return of abducted children to the United States or to obtain parental access. The Department’s efforts have included individual requests through diplomatic channels seeking Japanese assistance in enforcing US parents’ rights and in persuading taking parents to provide access; exchanges and training for lawyers and officials; and outreach and public diplomacy efforts. The Department continues to encourage the government of Japan to remove obstacles that parents still face in gaining access to or return of their children. Meanwhile, the Japanese government is developing its own resources to address issues related to child abduction since joining the Convention. Many of these initiatives, such as promoting mediation and alternative dispute resolution methods as a way for parents to reach agreement, using video-conferencing to foster communication between parents and children, and engaging in pubic outreach activities, may assist in non-Convention cases as well. Despite these encouraging steps, during the reporting period almost all of these cases remained unresolved. [Emphasis again added].
Japan also features in Table 3 (at page 22 of the report), a list of countries that qualify for ‘recommendations’ to apply to them because they have 5 or more pending abduction cases as at the end of the reporting period. Six ‘recommendations’ are available in these circumstances (see the list at page 20 of the report); Table 3 indicates that the 3 less significant ones fall to apply, namely in the case of Japan:
The State Department promotes training with judicial and administrative authorities on the effective handling of international parental abduction (IPCA) cases.
The Department promotes training with law enforcement entities on how to effectively locate children and enforce court-ordered returns.
Embassy and consulate public affairs and consular sections promote the resolution of IPCA cases with public diplomacy and outreach activities.
These sanctions are, of course, a very light touch. Japan was not on the more serious list of ‘countries demonstrating a pattern on non-compliance’ (see Table 4 from page 30 of the report) but the first year’s report only covered 3 months – it will be interesting to see whether, over the course of 2015, Japan so lets down children and parents that it makes it into this hall of shame.