US State Department 2018 report on child abduction – Japan excerpt

Country Summary: The Hague Abduction Convention entered into force between the United States and Japan in 2014. Since then Japan has made measurable progress on international parental child abduction. The number of abductions to Japan reported to the Department has decreased since the Convention came into force for Japan. Despite this progress, in cases where taking parents refused to comply with court return orders, there were no effective means to enforce the order, resulting in a pattern of noncompliance. As a result of this failure, 22 percent of requests for the return of abducted children under the Convention remained unresolved for more than 12 months. On average these cases were unresolved for one year and 10 months. The Department continues to urge Japan to resolve the 21 pre-Convention abduction cases that remained open at the end of the year, all of which have been outstanding for many years.

 
Initial Inquiries: In 2017, the Department received three initial inquiries from parents regarding possible abductions to Japan where no completed applications were submitted to the Department.

 
Central Authority: The United States and the Japanese Central Authorities have a strong and productive relationship that facilitates the resolution of abduction cases under the Convention. The Japanese Central Authority has focused effectively on preventing abductions, expanding mediation between parents, and promoting voluntary returns. The average number of children reported abducted to Japan each year has decreased by 44 percent since 2014, when the Convention came into force in Japan.
Voluntary Resolution: The Convention states that central authorities “shall take all appropriate measures to secure the voluntary return of the child or to bring about an amicable resolution of the issues.” In 2017, four abduction cases were resolved through voluntary means.

 
Location: The competent authorities regularly took appropriate steps to locate children after a Convention application was filed. The average time to locate a child was 15 days.
Judicial Authorities: The judicial authorities of Japan routinely reached timely decisions in accordance with the Convention. Japanese courts routinely issued orders pursuant to the Convention for children’s return.

 
Enforcement: Unless the taking parent voluntarily complied with a return order under the Convention, judicial decisions in Convention cases in Japan were not enforced. There are two cases (accounting for 100 percent of the unresolved cases) that have been pending for more than 12 months where law enforcement has failed to enforce the return order. Japan’s inability to quickly and effectively enforce Hague return orders appears to stem from limitations in Japanese law including requirements that direct enforcement take place in the home and presence of the taking parent, that the child willingly leave the taking parent, and that the child face no risk of psychological harm. As a result, it is very difficult to achieve enforcement of Hague return orders. In addition, the enforcement process is excessively long. Left-behind parents who have obtained Hague return orders can spend more than a year in follow-on legal proceedings seeking an order to enforce the Hague order.

 
Access: In 2017, the U.S. Central Authority acted on a total of 37 open access cases under the Convention in Japan. Of these, three cases were opened in 2017. A total of 36 access cases have been filed with the Japanese Central Authority, including two of the three cases opened in 2017. By December 31, 2017, six cases (16 percent) have been resolved and five cases have been closed for other reasons. Of those resolved, one was as a result of a voluntary agreement between the parents. By December 31, 2017, 26 access cases remained open, including 23 that have been active for more than 12 months without achieving meaningful access. The total number of Convention access cases at the beginning of 2017 includes 14 pre-Convention abduction cases that later filed for access under the Convention. Of these, one resolved, four closed for other reasons, and nine remained open at the end of 2017. In addition to filing for Hague access, these LBPs continue to seek the return of their abducted children.

 
Pre-Convention Cases: At the end of 2017, 12 pre-Convention abduction cases remained open in Japan. In 2017, seven pre-Convention cases were resolved and one pre-Convention case was closed for other reasons. In these cases, the parents have chosen not to file for access under the Convention.

 
Department Recommendations: The Department will continue its engagement with relevant Japanese authorities to address the areas of concern highlighted in this report.

 

 

Read the full report here (section on Japan at pages 21 to 22)

 

 

See also:  “US cites Japan for non compliance with Hague treaty on cross border parental child abductions”, The Japan Times, 18 May 2018

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Lawmaker: U.S. needs to pressure Japan to comply with international child abduction laws (USA Today)

Lawmaker: U.S. needs to pressure Japan to comply with international child abduction laws

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Japan remains a haven for parental child abductions and a U.S. lawmaker Wednesday urged the Trump administration to do more to pressure the country to fulfill its obligations under international law.

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., said during congressional testimony that between 300 and 400 children of international marriages have been abducted from the U.S. to Japan since 1994, and that more than 35 are still awaiting reunification with their American parents.

“Every day these children are separated from their U.S. parent, the damage compounds,” Smith said before a Congressional subcommittee on global human rights. “We must do better. We must not leave any child behind.”

Under international pressure, in 2014 Japan signed The Hague Convention on International Child Abduction. The treaty requires the government to set up a process to allow foreign parents to appeal for visitation or return of their children. But Japan has been slack in administering the convention, according to Smith.

 “How many of these children have come home four years later?” asked Smith. “How many even have access to their left behind parent now?  Almost zero.”

James Cook, a Minnesota medical device specialist trying to gain custody of his four minor children from his estranged Japanese wife, also testified before Congress.

In July 2014, his Japanese wife Hitomi Arimitsu took their children to Japan to visit her family and refused to return. Cook submitted an application for return under the Hague treaty and the case has made its way through both the Japanese and American court system, but Cook has still not been able to see his children.

A Minnesota court ordered the return of Cook’s children in 2017, but the ruling wasn’t carried out in Japan.

A key issue is that Japan does not have a way of enforcing its Hague commitments. It requires the abducting parent to voluntarily turn the children over and doesn’t allow the use of force in extracting the children. There have been numerous cases of parents simply refusing to comply with the Hague rulings.

Cook’s wife petitioned a Japanese court against the ruling to return the children and it was overturned, a decision which Japan’s Supreme Court upheld in December 2017.

“[My wife] has achieved the perfect consequence-free abduction with the aid of Japan’s systemic non-compliance and [the US Department of State’s] inaction,” Cook said in his testimony.

“After over 2.5 years in this process, I have nothing,” he said. “This process has cost me everything.”

Attention to the issue within Japan has been growing in recent weeks. Last month, all EU Ambassadors to Japan signed an official letter of diplomatic protest to pressure Japan to follow international law and enforce decisions which give an international parent custody or visitation rights.

Also in March, Japan’s Supreme Court ruled that a Japanese mother who is refusing to return her child to their father in the United States is “illegally restraining” the child under the Hague Convention.

It was the first such ruling by a Japanese court.

The court ruling and international pressure are a cause for optimism, according to John Gomez, an American who is chairman of the Kizuna Child-Parent Reunion group in Japan.

Gomez said that barriers remain, including an underlying “continuity principle” in Japanese courts means that the abducted child stays with the abducting parent.

“Until the ‘continuity principle’ by which judges in Japan issue rulings is actually discarded and kidnapped children are returned, we must keep pushing to the utmost for the children to be returned to their loving parents,” said Gomez.

Rep. Smith said in his testimony that the State Department needs to apply more pressure on Japan and other countries that have refused to cooperate in returning abducted children. A 2014 law that Smith sponsored, the Goldman Act, requires the State Department to develop an agreement with Japan about children that had been abducted and to hold Japan accountable.

However, Smith said that no action has been taken against Japan for past or current cases, and the State Department hasn’t even listed Japan as “non-compliant” in its annual report on the Hague convention.

Source:  “Lawmaker:  US needs to pressure Japan to comply with international child abduction laws”, USA Today, 11 April 2018 

Smith Introduces the Philips-Davenport International Child Abduction Return Act

News Item

A new source of hope for left behind parents
Smith Introduces the Philips-Davenport International Child Abduction Return Act

Washington, Jul 28, 2017
Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), author of the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act (P.L 113-150), introduced an innovative new bill that will automatically remove tariff benefits for countries that are found to be out of compliance in returning children home—the “Bindu Philips and Devon Davenport International Child Abduction Return Act of 2017.”
“Bindu Philips fought valiantly in India for over eight years for the return of her abducted twin sons, only to be given the incessant delays in India’s courts and little support from the Obama Administration,” said Smith, Chair of the House panel on global human rights. “Just recently, she was finally granted a short visit with her children in India, but the children’s father marred the time with harassment and monitoring, refusing to let the children and mother leave a hotel for 7 days.
“Devon Davenport has had a return order for his daughter, Nadia, from Brazil since 2009. He has won every single one of the 24 appeals against the order—but Brazil still will not enforce its own return order.
“Shockingly, 11 of the 13 countries found to be non-compliant in the annual Goldman Report by the U.S. State Department in the return of abducted American children are still receiving billions of dollars in tariff exemptions under the Generalized System of Preferences. We must cease rewarding countries that aid abductors. When is enough finally enough?”
In 2016, 629 American children were taken from the United States by one parent without the consent of the other, often in direct violation of valid United States court orders, United States criminal law and the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The Obama Administration’s refusal to apply sanctions against countries that fail to return abducted children has led to a rate of return of only 16%.
“For years, the U.S. government response to abductions has been an engraved invitation to abductors,” said Smith. “Abductors have an 84% chance of no penalty for ripping their child from home and family in the United States. It is my hope and expectation that this year, the State Department will begin to act more decisively on behalf of American families so that more children come home.”
The new bill amends the Generalized System of Preferences, a trade program designed to promote economic growth in the developing world through duty free entry for some products, so that any country named as non-compliant in the prompted resolutions of abductions would lose trade benefits granted by the United States. The new legislation ensures that the loss of trade preference would be automatic and not dependent on the Executive Branch applying sanctions.
Abducted children in a foreign country are often blocked from any contact with the American parent, losing half of their family and heritage.  Such children are also at grave risk of serious emotional and psychological problems. Many such children experience anxiety, eating problems, nightmares, mood swings, aggressive behavior, resentment and fear. Every day the abduction continues only compounds these harms.
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Source:  “Smith Introduces the Philips-Davenport International Child Abduction Return Act”, News Item, Congressman Chris Smith’s website, published on 28 July 2017

 

Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction – 2015

The US State Department’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction was published recently. At page 26 the report said the following as regards the position of Japan:

As an example of the USCA’s policy of promoting Convention partnership worldwide, the USCA spent more than a decade actively pressing Japan to ratify the Convention. The USCA maintained close contact with the government of Japan in 2012 and 2013 as Japan’s parliament prepared and passed 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, U.S. 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.

The USCA and the U.S. 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 U.S. 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 videoconferencing to foster communication between parents and children, and engaging in public outreach activities, may assist in non-Convention cases as well. Despite these encouraging steps, during the reporting period almost all of these non-Convention cases remained unresolved.

The report, at pages 26 to 27, also contained the following passages as regards the important role of airlines in these issues:

Many international parental child abductions take place via international airline flights, although the USCA has no specific data on this issue. Commercial airline practices to prevent IPCA were thoroughly reviewed by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in a June 2011 report, “Commercial Aviation, Program Aimed at High Risk Parent Abductors Could Aid in Preventing Abductions” to the House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Aviation, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. This detailed report addresses the policies and measures airlines currently have in place, possible solutions, and appropriate role of commercial airliners in preventing IPCA.

In addition to the recommendations of the GAO report, the USCA also recommends the following best practices for airlines to aid in preventing IPCA:

1   Support and Cooperate with Law Enforcement Efforts: As private sector entities, airlines in the United States do not have the authority to enforce court and custody orders.

The airline’s main role related to the prevention of IPCA is cooperating, upon request, with law enforcement officials.   Federal and state law enforcement entities have the main role in preventing

IPCA and airlines should work to support law enforcement agencies in this role.

2   Know How To Report: Commercial airline employees should be made aware of the USCA’s contact information so that IPCA cases reported to the airlines, either by a parent, attorney, court, law enforcement officer, or other stakeholder may be appropriately referred for immediate assistance.

 

A report from The Washington Times published on the 4th anniversary last month of my own son’s abduction to Japan highlights the fact that the Sean and David Goldman Act mechanisms have been “under-used” by the US Administration. These annual reports were a central part of the legislative regime. Whilst welcome in themselves, it has yet to be seen what difference these reports, and the other mechanisms, will make in terms of preventing or putting right child abductions.

The State Department should do more to address international abductions (Washington Post editorial)

The State Department should do more to address international abductions

The Washington Post

August 12, 2015

EVER SINCE his ex-wife wrongly took his son, now 11, to Japan five years ago, Jeffery Morehouse has been fighting for the boy’s return. Mr. Morehouse had been recognized as the sole custodial parent in Washington state, and a Japanese court affirmed that the ruling applies in Japan. Nonetheless, there has been no reunion, no visits, no contact of any sort.

Mr. Morehouse sadly is not alone. Nearly 1,000 children are abducted each year from the United States by a parent and taken to a foreign country; fewer than half of them ever come home. Recognizing the need to help the American parents left behind and bereft, Congress last year gave the State Department more tools to deal with abduction cases by passing the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act. The measure aims to put teeth in U.S. diplomacy by identifying a series of actions — increasing in severity from official protests to suspension of assistance — the State Department may take in bringing abducted children home or getting their cases fairly adjudicated.

A key requirement of the law is that the State Department compile and release an annual report to quantify unresolved cases and identify problem countries. But release of the first report revealed shortcomings in the State Department’s willingness to hold foreign governments to account. Recent hearings held by Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.), who sponsored the Goldman act, spotlighted what he called major gaps, even misleading information, in the report.

Countries were listed as having zero pending abduction cases even when there were cases that had been discussed in previous hearings and the State Department was involved with affected parents. Most notable, as Mr. Smith pointed out, was that in the key section of the report Japan was recorded as having no unresolved cases when there are more than 50 outstanding. The State Department gave Japan a pass for signing on last year to the Hague Convention that governs cross-border child custody disputes, not cataloguing the prior cases. That, of course, is of no help to parents such as Mr. Morehouse.

State Department officials acknowledged the report had gaps; it “did not meet all expectations,” said Susan Jacobs, the department’s special adviser for children’s issues. After Mr. Smith conducted two hearings on the matter, the department revised its report, acknowledging the unresolved cases in Japan. But Mr. Smith said the law demands more than scorekeeping. “With more accurate data reported, it is incumbent upon the Administration to make the other critical adjustments,” he said in a statement, “such as naming Japan along with the 22 other ‘non-compliant’ countries that are now subject to a strong response by the State Department.”

These reports are not academic exercises. They provide guidance to family court judges and parents assessing the risk of abduction in a child’s travel, and they inform congressional decisions about foreign assistance. If the State Department fails to call things as they are, it sends a message that nothing really needs to change after all.

Read more about this topic:

The Post’s View: Give parents more tools in international abduction cases

Five myths about missing children

Source:  “The State Department should do more to address international abductions”, The Washington Post (editorial), 12 August 2015