Press Statement

Harty on Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction

Assistant Secretary for Consular Affairs Maura Harty

As prepared for delivery
Embassy of Canada in Tokyo

December 3, 2005

The U.S. Embassy is pleased to participate in today's seminar on the issue of international child abduction. I would like to thank the Tokyo Consular and Administrative Corps and the Canadian Embassy for organizing this seminar. This is a valuable opportunity to bring together representatives from the Japanese government, non-governmental organizations, and consular officials, and private citizens to discuss this important issue.

International parental child abductions are a tragedy, and as can be seen from the participation of over 21 countries at this seminar, it is a growing problem for countries around the world. The United States has been concerned about this issue for many years. In 1994 the State Department established the Office of Children's Issues to assist American parents whose children have been wrongfully taken. As international marriage and divorce increase the number of child abduction case continues to rise. On average, each year we are engaged with 1,100 families seeking the return to the United States of children abducted or wrongfully retained abroad.

The best method for fairly and impartially resolving child custody cases is the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abductions. Countries that are party to the Convention have agreed that a child who is habitually resident in one party country, and who has been removed to or retained in another party country in violation of the left-behind parent's custodial rights, shall be promptly returned to the country of habitual residence. 75 countries have acceded to the Hague Convention, including every country that is a member of the OECD except for Korea and Japan.

Japan ranks first among East Asian countries in the number of active abduction cases handled by the Department of State. When children are abducted to countries which are not signatory to the Hague Convention, the Government of the United States works closely with the left behind parent and, often, local government officials, to ensure the return of the child to their place of habitual residence. Unfortunately, in Japan there is no mechanism for resolving child abduction cases. In fact parental kidnapping is not considered a crime.

For left behind parents, any information about their children is precious. This is why having consular officers visit with the children is very important. Unfortunately, here in Japan it can be difficult to persuade the taking/wrongfully retaining parent to permit their children to meet with consular officials.

We continue to urge Japan to accede to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abductions as a mechanism for determining the venue to resolve child custody disputes. We also note that the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, and the US-Japan Bilateral Consular Convention provide for consular officers to safeguard the interests of children from the United States. We hope that as a signatory to these conventions Japan will assist our consular officers in securing permissions to visit with American children who have been wrongfully taken.