A group of U.S. fathers urged the Japanese government Monday to comply with a convention for settling cross-border child custody disputes and help them and other American parents reunite with their children living in Japan.
The fathers and their supporters, including a veteran congressman, handed a petition to a minister of the Japanese Embassy in Washington, a day before Japan’s implementation of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
They were among some 20 people who marched through the U.S. capital holding placards with their children’s pictures and met with a relevant U.S. government official earlier in the day to increase awareness of child abduction to Japan.
The group Bring Abducted Children Home organized the events.
Paul Toland, co-founder of the group, told reporters, referring to Japan’s accession to the Hague Convention, “Today can be a new beginning.”
“But remember this. It’s just the beginning. The ultimate resolution of these cases has not yet been attained,” Navy employee Toland, 46, said.
His former wife and her mother rebuffed his every attempt to see his daughter, he said. Although he has been the sole living parent since the former wife’s death several years ago, he has no rights to see his daughter.
Tokyo became the 91st signatory of the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which sets out the rules and procedures for the prompt return to the country of habitual residence of children under 16 taken or retained by one parent, if requested by the other parent.
The Hague pact is not retroactive, only dealing with cases occurring after its entry into force. But it can provide assistance to parents seeking visitations, regardless of when they were separated from children.
Christopher Smith, a House of Representative member, joined the people in making the calls on the Japanese government.
“Parents here today whose children were abducted prior to ratification cannot be left behind again,” said Smith, who heads the House subcommittee on global human rights and international organizations.
The fathers came to Washington from across the country, with one flying from as far away as Singapore. Some described Japan as a child custody “black hole.”
The fathers and the supporters, including attorneys, asked the U.S. State Department to help realize reunions with their children in a meeting with Beth Payne, director of the department’s Office of Children’s Issues.
The department received 28 applications, involving some 40 children, from the group on Monday. The office has been working on 58 other cases involving around 80 children as of February 2014, according to a department official.
While the department’s spokeswoman Marie Harf described Japan’s participation in the Hague Convention as “a positive change,” many parents who took part in Monday’s events indicated they have little faith that the Japanese government would help them retrieve their children.
They also said they are worried that cases would be remanded to local family courts, which lack expertise on the convention and have traditionally given custody to mothers. Nor does Japan have reciprocal custody agreement with the United States.
The group’s attorney Stephen Cullen mentioned that 200 more applications will be submitted within the year.