Special Advisor for Children’s Issues to Travel to Japan and the Republic of Korea

Special Advisor for Children’s Issues to Travel to Japan and the Republic of Korea

Media Note

Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
December 1, 2017

The Special Advisor for Children’s Issues, Suzanne Lawrence, will travel to Tokyo and Seoul from December 4-14.

Special Advisor Lawrence will lead the U.S. delegation in a conference focused on the Hague Abduction Convention in Tokyo, which will provide an opportunity to engage with representatives from countries throughout the Asia Pacific region on the critical issue of international parental child abduction. The Special Advisor will also meet with government officials in both Tokyo and Seoul to discuss intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction issues.

The United States is dedicated to supporting intercountry adoption as a viable option for children in need of permanency, and to preventing and resolving international parental child abduction cases.

For more information about the Department of State’s Office of Children’s Issues, visit: www.adoption.state.gov and www.travel.state.gov/childabduction

Source:  “Special Advisor on Children’s Issues to travel to Japan and the Republic of Korea”, US Department of State press release, 1 December 2017


Our Leadership

Suzanne Lawrence
Special Advisor for Children’s Issues
U.S. Department of State
Bureau of Consular Affairs

Ambassador Suzanne Lawrence

Suzanne Lawrence is the Special Advisor for Children’s Issues. Prior to arriving in Washington, she served as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Athens, Greece. Ms. Lawrence has also served as a Senior Advisor for the Assistant Secretary in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs.

Ms. Lawrence is a career member of the U.S. Senior Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor. Previously, she has served as the Director of the Senior Level Division in the Office of Career Development and Assignments in the Bureau of Human Resources, and as Director of the Office of Policy Coordination and Public Affairs for the Bureau of Consular Affairs.

Overseas, Ms. Lawrence was the U.S. Country Consular Coordinator for Australia and Deputy Principal Officer and Consular Section Chief at the U.S. Consulate General in Sydney, Australia. Ms. Lawrence also has served overseas in Jerusalem, Dublin and Caracas.

Domestically, Ms. Lawrence has worked as a desk officer in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, as the East Asia and Pacific Division Chief in the Office of Overseas Citizens Services/American Citizens Services and Crisis Management, and as the spokesperson for the Bureau of Consular Affairs.

Suzanne holds a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. Her graduate studies include a Master’s degree in international management from the American Graduate School of International Management (“Thunderbird”) and a Master’s degree in strategic studies from the National War College at the National Defense University.

Suzanne is married and has a daughter.

Source:  US Department of State (accessed on 11 December 2017)

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Five years of blogging

Today marks 5 years to the day since this blog was established (itself 1 year to the day after my son was taken).  Prior to events of 6 years ago it had never occurred to me to write a blog.  Probably the best piece of advice that I was given however, by an Irish left behind parent soon after my son was taken, was to set up a blog so that is what I did on 20 November 2012 having by then spent a year apart from my son.  As I wrote at the time, the blog had two objectives:  to re-establish contact with my son and to raise awareness of the issue of international parental child abduction.

In terms of the first of these objectives, I have been unsuccessful.  I have not seen or heard from my son in, now, 6 years.  That is a constant source of sadness and anger, neither of which yields with the effluxion of time.  With each day that goes by and with each Easter, Father’s Day, my own birthday, my son’s birthday and Christmas I have to tell myself that my son is still too young to contact me directly.  I don’t know what his proficiency in English is or even whether if, any internet restrictions at home permitting, it would as yet even occur for him to research the circumstances of his presence in Japan online.  I know not what if anything he has been told about me and how this translates into whether he would if he could contact his father. Although I have some doubts about possibly ever seeing my son again and even were I to not until he is  well into his 20s, I hope that this fear may be misplaced.  I hope that one day he will find and read these frozen in time posts.
In terms of the second objective, I have perhaps been if not successful then certainly helpful. I have been contacted by not only fathers and mothers who have had their children abducted but also by people fearing that their partner might abduct their children.  Providing what guidance I can has I hope made some difference.  In responding to such contacts, it has certainly made me feel that a small amount of good has come out of all this.
When I started blogging, the expectation that Japan would, finally, sign the Hague Convention was reaching fever pitch and, indeed, Japan did accede to the Convention on 1 April 2014. Had my son been abducted 14 months later I could have got him back.  As it is I cannot.  Despite the accession of Japan to the Convention issues of abduction and lack of parental contact remain real and widespread ones in the Japanese legal system so I shall continue to update this blog whenever I can and continue to welcome contact from left behind parents and those fearing that they may become left behind parents.

Message for Hugo – 6 years on…

Hello Hugo
In London it has just turned midnight on 20 November 2017.
We last saw each other at an airport 6 years ago today.  I, of course, don’t expect you to remember – how could I as you were still a toddler.  The date, however, shall remain with me, as your loving father, forever.
The date coincides with two very different anniversaries.  In the UK the Queen and Prince Philip celebrate their wedding anniversary today (their 70th).  November 20 also marks the anniversary of the signing in New York in 1989 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (itself signed on the 30th anniversary of adopting of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child on 20 November 1959).  The 1989 Convention came into force the following year and included the following provisions:
A child whose parents reside in different States shall have the right to maintain on a regular basis, save in exceptional circumstances personal relations and direct contacts with both parents. 
Article 10, sub section 2. 
States Parties shall take measures to combat the illicit transfer and non-return of children abroad.
Article 11, sub section 1.
These are but two provisions that can be said to relate to us but, as our experience has shown these 6 years, the reality that meets these words is very different.
Earlier this year also saw the passing, on 12 May 2017, of exactly 2,000 days from when I last saw you.
As I did last year, I will leave work early later today to visit the spot at the airport where I last saw you at the time when I last saw you. Also today, as it’s your 9th birthday in 8 days’ time, I will go to the Post Office to send you your birthday package.  I will post here again on your birthday, as I always do, and also later today with a more general update about the blog.
I hope and pray that in a year’s time this will all have changed.  For now, though, please remember that there is not a moment when I am not thinking about you, my beloved and now not so little boy.  May God bless, protect and watch over you this day and all days.
Daddy

Canadian Supreme Court international parental child abduction appeal

This article appeared online last week.  According to the Supreme Court of Canada website, the judgment was reserved.

thestar.com logo

Supreme Court case could have far-reaching implications for international child custody cases

A case being heard at the Supreme Court on Thursday could change the way Canadian authorities decide the fate of children caught up in international child custody and abduction cases.

Kate Baggott says "ultimately nothing was gained" by her four-year legal battle. She described the experience as “surreal."
Kate Baggott says “ultimately nothing was gained” by her four-year legal battle. She described the experience as “surreal.”  (KATE BAGGOTT)  

It took four years battling her estranged husband in German and Canadian courts before Kate Baggott was finally allowed to settle with her two children in Canada.

On Thursday, the St. Catharines woman hopes to begin the final chapter of her struggle when the Supreme Court of Canada examines the workings of an agreement that determines the fate of children caught up in international child custody and abduction cases.

Ultimately, the court’s ruling could change the way Canadian authorities decide what country these children should live in and result in a more child-centric approach.

In Baggott’s case, the years of legal wrangling meant that her children lived in limbo, moving back and forth between Germany and Canada, disrupting their education and making it impossible to put down roots.

“Ultimately nothing was gained from having gone through this process,” Baggott told the Star in an interview.

She described the experience as “surreal” and said the court process was too focused on legal arguments instead of what is best for the children.

The Supreme Court’s ruling will have no effect on Baggott’s case, after a German court finally awarded her full custody of her son, 15, and daughter, 11, from their father John Paul Balev and let the three return to Canada in April. But the court decided to proceed anyway with the appeal of Ontario Court of Appeal ruling as it recognized the importance of the issue.

All the parties at Thursday’s hearing hope the high court can provide guidance on the definition of “habitual residence” under the Hague Convention, an international child protection agreement recognized by 98 countries.

 

 The designation determines where a child in a custodial dispute should temporarily stay while the case is ongoing and which country has the authority to adjudicate the case.

“This comes down to how we figure out where a child’s habitual residence is. Right now, there is no national consistency on this,” said Patric Senson, a co-counsel for the Baggott, one of eight parties with standing before the Supreme Court.

“Whatever comes out, it will provide some clarity for everybody involved in this situation so everyone will be working from the same page . . . reduce the amount of litigation and stress for the child and litigants.”

In Canada and elsewhere, different courts have different interpretations of habitual residence, with some defining it as the last place of the residence agreed upon by the parents prior to the removal of the child by one party, while others base it on the children’s best interests.

The appeal to the Supreme Court was brought by the Office of the Children’s Lawyer (OCL), a Ontario body that represents children under age 18 in court cases involving custody, access and child protection, as well as in civil, and estates and trusts cases.

Baggott, a writer, and Balev, a computer programmer, married in Toronto in 2000 and moved to Germany on work permits the following year for his job. Their two children were both born there but were not eligible for German citizenship.

The couple’s relationship fell apart but the family still lived together in the same house when the mother and their two children moved back to Canada in 2013 after the father agreed to let the children stay with their mother in Canada for 16 months.

However, according to Baggott’s submission to the high court, Balev later went to German authorities claiming Baggott abducted their children, sparking the four-year legal battle.

Last September, the Ontario Court of Appeal dismissed the children’s objections to returning to Germany and ruled that the mother breached the Hague Convention and they must all go back because Germany was their “habitual residence.”

In its factums to the Supreme Court, the OCL said the appeal court decision to return Baggott’s two children to Germany was wrong because it failed to consider the best interests of the minors, who at that point had lived in Canada for three years, were in school and had friends and support in the community.

“The goal of deterring ‘abduction’ and protecting the interests of children generally was prioritized over the rights of the individual children before the courts,” said the OCL in its submission.

“As a result, (the children) were harmed by the operation of the very Convention that was meant to protect them. In this appeal, the OCL urges an interpretation of the Convention that is child-centric, consistent with Canada’s obligations.”

However, the attorneys general in Ottawa, Ontario and British Columbia argue the current approach in determining the child’s residence offers an “objective” guide for Canadian authorities to follow.

“The Convention is intended to combat international child abductions, including the wrongful retention of children in foreign states and to protect children from their harmful effects,” said the submission from the federal attorney general.

The submission said “the prompt return of the child to the state of habitual residence best protects the interests of children by respecting rights of custody under domestic laws. The Convention is not intended to determine the custody arrangement that is in the best interests of the child.”

Ontario warns in its submission that the child-centric approach proposed by the appellant “would incentivize parents to subject their children to ‘harmful manipulation’ — developing artificial attachments to their new environment — in order to influence the child’s perspective about their habitual residence.”

While the case is still up in air, both Baggott and Balev said in their submissions the fight has exhausted their financial resources.

“The Hague Convention is meant for genuine cases of abduction when one parent disappears with the child in the night,” said Baggott, who is still struggling to turn a new page of her life with her two children. “It is not meant for cases like ours.”

Source:  “Supreme Court case could have far-reaching implications for international child custody cases”, The Star, 8 November 2017