June 16, 2015
America’s Abducted Kids Get No Help From Japan
A new law was supposed to enlist the State Department in helping to bring the kids back, but Tokyo has talked its way out of cooperating.
By N.J. Congressman Chris Smith
Wall Street Journal
The U.S. State Department last month released its first annual report on countries that refuse to return American children who have been abducted by a parent and taken abroad. Conspicuously absent from the worst-offenders list in the report is the country with the world’s worst record of cooperation: Japan. Tokyo has never issued and enforced a return order for any one of the more than 50 American children currently held captive there by a parent who violated the wishes of another parent in taking the child overseas. This is in addition to the hundreds of previously abducted American children who became adults without knowing the love, culture and care of their American parent.
Last year Congress passed the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act, which requires that the State Department hold countries accountable if an abduction case is still unresolved a year after State requests assistance in the return of a child. As the prime sponsor of the Goldman Act, I believe it is important to remind the State Department of its obligations under the law. First, State must accurately count all unresolved cases in its annual report. Second, the secretary of state needs to take action against all countries that have 30% or more unresolved cases, or that are otherwise noncompliant in helping to resolve abduction cases. When it comes to Japan, State falls far short on both counts.
Initially, the law seemed effective at bringing Japan’s attention to the issue. Tokyo was so worried about being found noncompliant in the report and put on the worst-offenders list that it sent a high-level delegation to the U.S. to meet with Ambassador Susan Jacobs just before the report was due and explain its lack of compliance.
For State, it seems, that meeting was enough to absolve Japan. Rather than provide the report as required by law, State later delivered to Congress a table loaded with zeroes in the “unresolved” category of countries and then, adding insult to injury, listed Japan with a 43% abduction-resolution rate.
The more than 50 American parents who have spent years trying to bring their children home were shocked and devastated. With the new law, they thought their country would finally stand with them in working to bring their children home. Instead, the State Department attempted an end-run around the Goldman Act, squandering any real leverage in the process.
State’s failure to hold Japan accountable delegitimizes the entire report and undermines its purpose. Other countries can now look at it as a deal-making political trope. It is truly a waste of what could have been a highly effective diplomatic tool.
Furthermore, State’s continued refusal to reveal each country’s real number of unresolved cases, even when required to do so by law, should worry every American who believes the U.S. government should be honest about successes and failures in the return of American abducted children. I have asked State repeatedly for the number of unresolved cases in India, for instance, only to be stonewalled.
Congress passed the Goldman Act to compel transparency and action. Yet what the State Department is doing is ultimately perpetuating the status quo, where far less than half of abducted American children are reunited with their families.
International parental child abduction rips children from their homes and uproots their lives, alienating them from a left-behind parent who loves them and whom they have a right to know. Abducted children often lose their relationship with their parent, half of their identity and half of their culture. Child abduction is child abuse.
Congress went to great lengths to reunite these families, passing the Goldman Act unanimously. But a law is only as good as its implementation. A congressional hearing on June 11 featured anguished parents of children abducted to and currently held in Japan, India and elsewhere. With hope, the State Department will learn from their stories and follow through on enforcement in the future.
Mr. Smith represents New Jersey’s fourth Congressional district.