American View: What is the issue of international parental child abduction? How can it be considered “abduction” if the person taking the child is his or her parent?
Deputy Assistant Secretary Bond: Parental child abduction is a tragedy, both for the child involved and the parent left behind. An international parental child abduction occurs when one parent takes a child across international boundaries with the intent to deprive the other parent of his or her rightful access to the child. In the United States, we believe that each parent’s relationship and contact with their child should continue even if their marriage ends in divorce.
A parent who is left behind when his or her child is taken away wrongfully often faces a daunting struggle to find the child and to re-establish communication with the taking parent and the child. When a child is abducted across international borders, the difficulties are compounded for everyone involved.
Even when the person taking the child is a parent, the intent of depriving the other parent of his or her parental relationship and parental rights established by law is wrong, not only because of the legal rights of the left behind parent, but also because the child is being denied the right to a relationship with his or her parent. This cultural norm in the United States is recognized in both federal and most states’ criminal laws which make international parental child abduction a crime. In addition, the right of parents and children to maintain relationships serves as the basis for international conventions, including the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
Q: What does the Department of State do in these cases?
DAS Bond: First, we try to prevent abductions, if possible. The Office of Children’s Issues’ Prevention Unit educates parents on the dangers of international abduction and works with them to protect children in the United States from this threat. Prevention tools on the Bureau of Consular Affairs website (www.travel.state.gov) include information on precautions for parents, the importance of custody orders, passport requirements for minor children including parental consent regulations, and the Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program (CPIAP). This important program enables Children’s Issues to notify a parent or court-ordered legal guardian before issuing a U.S. passport to his or her minor child. To enter a child’s name in the program, parents or guardians need to submit a written request to Children’s Issues.
The highest priority of the Department, and thus Children’s Issues, is safeguarding the welfare of U.S. citizen children. To protect our most vulnerable citizens, we work through our U.S. embassies and consulates to conduct welfare visits with abducted children; we raise abuse and neglect concerns with foreign governments, and we pursue all lawful and appropriate means to return abducted children to their custodial parents. These visits often require the assistance of host governments, as taking parents may not provide information about their whereabouts to the left behind parents.
When the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction applies, the Office of Children’s Issues, which is the Central Authority for the Convention, assists parents in filing an application with foreign central authorities for return of, or access to, the child.
In non-Hague countries like Japan, Children’s Issues advises left-behind parents on other options, including pursuing U.S. criminal charges against abductors. The Department also seeks to make non-U.S. citizen abductors and those who assist them ineligible for U.S. visas. In addition, officials at U.S. embassies and consulates raise cases with host government contacts to press for the return of abducted children.
Where it is appropriate, we try to work to build communication between the parties. Through communication, we are occasionally able to help negotiate informal solutions or compromises where a left behind parent can gain occasional access to their child. While these compromises may fall short of a full resolution of the situation, most parents consider occasional access far preferable to being completely cut off from their child.
Measures such as pursuing criminal charges, seeking Interpol notices, and making abductors ineligible for U.S. visas restrict taking parents’ ability to travel and put pressure on them to negotiate a resolution.
Q: How many cases are there in a year? How many get resolved? How do they get resolved?
DAS Bond: In the last twelve months (October 2006 to October 2007), the Office of Children’s Issues has opened more than 550 cases involving almost 750 children worldwide. We resolved 185 cases involving 241 children, although a number of those cases had been pending for more than one year.
A majority of cases that reach resolution do so under the provisions of the Hague Convention on International Parental Child Abduction. In cases where the Convention does not apply, a mix of communication, legal remedies (both civil and criminal), visa ineligibilities, and cooperation with host governments can be successful. Unlike cases governed by the Hague Convention, there is no set formula for a happy ending. Many times, significant creativity on the part of the left behind parent and those helping him or her is necessary.
Q: What’s the situation with Japan?
DAS Bond: Japan is an important partner and friend to the United States. This makes our failure, so far, to work together and develop solutions to most cases of parental child abduction in Japan particularly troubling.
Left behind parents face a frustrating and often fruitless search for their children abducted to Japan. Culturally, our two nations’ approaches to divorce and child rearing are very different. Japanese criminal law does not recognize parental child abduction. Japanese privacy laws can frustrate a parent’s search for his or her children. We are aware of only three cases that have been resolved in Japan. Those cases were resolved informally between the parents with some assistance from the United States Department of State.
We are eager for our relationship on this important issue to improve, whether it may be through Japan’s accession to the Hague Convention, or through other measures that can assist a left behind parent searching for news about his or her child.
Q: Does the Department of State do anything if a child is abducted from Japan to the United States?
DAS Bond: While we would work with domestic agencies to assist a left behind parent in Japan, we are not aware of any cases where a child has been abducted from Japan to the United States. Japan’s accession to the Hague Abduction Convention would provide a legal basis for cooperation in resolving cases of children abducted to the U.S. from Japan.
Q: If a parent who has abducted a child returns to the United States or travels to a country that is a signatory to the Hague Convention, can he/she be arrested?
DAS Bond: The Hague Convention is a treaty on civil remedies. Nothing in the treaty provides for the arrest of a taking parent. The goal of the Convention is to protect the jurisdiction for resolution of child custody issues in the courts of the place from which the child was unlawfully removed. In our experience, an active relationship under the Convention results in fewer criminal proceedings, not more, because parents realize the Convention can work on their behalf. In fact, pending criminal charges can be a barrier to the successful resolution of a Hague application. However, a left-behind parent in the United States could pursue a criminal remedy even if the child is taken to a Hague country, but we caution parents that a criminal warrant may have a negative impact on a return under the Hague Convention.
Q: What is the Japanese government’s justification for not signing the Hague Convention? Why do you think Japan should sign it? Are there any negotiations ongoing between the US and Japanese governments about this issue?
DAS Bond: In our numerous discussions about the Hague Convention, our Japanese counterparts have mentioned the significant cultural differences on issues of divorce and child rearing between our two great nations. While the United States has deep respect for the Japanese culture, we also believe that the Hague Convention provides a mechanism for resolving cultural and legal differences in a way that is fair and just for all parties involved in these difficult and tragic situations.
We have repeatedly raised our concerns about international parental child abduction with our friends in the Japanese government and will continue to do so at every opportunity. It is an important issue for the American people and for our Congress. We consider it our responsibility to those parents left behind to constantly strive for a better relationship with Japan on this issue.
Q: After a divorce in Japan even between Japanese parents, the father is in many cases not given visitation rights. Isn’t this a matter of differing cultural viewpoints? Why is visitation important?
DAS Bond: We recognize and respect that there are differing cultural viewpoints. When there are, it is the role of governments that are friends and allies to assist their respective citizens in finding solutions that are fair to both parents. When the status quo so favors one parent over another and invariably leads to a conclusion that totally excludes one parent, it cannot be said to be fair by any measure.
Describing why visitation is important is like trying to describe why a parent loves his child. Visitation is important to give the non-custodial parent an opportunity to foster a relationship with their child. Children look to both parents to model appropriate behavior, to seek guidance, and to be nurtured so that they may thrive and become responsible adult citizens. Certainly, in the U.S. the legal aspects of visitation are important and should be respected by countries governed by the rule of law. But more important to a left behind parent is the heartache and uncertainty that accompanies these tragic situations. Much of the world views parental access and visitation as a basic human right.
We work successfully with other nations whose family laws and culture differ significantly from ours in the United States. But what does not differ from one country to another is a parent’s lifelong love for his or her child, and a child’s need to know and love both parents.
Q: Are more of the parents who abduct children to Japan mothers or fathers? Many Japanese believe that it’s best for a child to be with his or her mother. What is the US view?
DAS Bond: The taking parents in our cases with Japan are almost uniformly Japanese mothers. While I hesitate to speak for our entire nation, many Americans believe that it is best for a child when both parents have a role in the child’s life. Our laws, both criminal and civil reflect that deeply held belief.
Michele Thoren Bond took over as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Overseas Citizens Services on July 26, 2007. Previously, she was the Director of the Office of Policy Coordination and Public Outreach in the Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs. She has also served as Managing Director of the Office of Overseas Citizens Services.
Ms. Bond joined the Foreign Service in 1977 and has served in Guatemala, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Russia and The Netherlands. Her most recent overseas assignment was as Consul General in Amsterdam. She graduated with honors from Wellesley College and has Masters Degree from Georgetown University and the National War College. Ms. Bond is married to Ambassador Clifford G. Bond, who is also a Foreign Service Officer. They have four children.