Thursday, May 26, 2011

International child abductions up sharply: US official

WASHINGTON — International child abductions are "sharply on the rise," the US State Department's official in charge of children's issues said Wednesday as Americans marked Missing Children's Day. Family members abduct more than 200,000 children every year in the United States, and last year nearly 2,000 children were kidnapped by one of their parents and illegally brought into or taken out of the United States, Susan Jacobs, the State Department special adviser on children's issues said. In US fiscal year 2006, 642 children were abducted from the United States by one of their parents, a report released two years ago by the State Department found.

That rose to 794 children for the same 12 months in 2007 and to 1,082 in 2008, according to the report. In 2008, 484 children were abducted to the United States, and only 361 children who were illegally taken out of the United States by a parent were returned, the report said. The rise in international child abductions by parents was "a disturbing trend," Jacobs said. Children who are kidnapped and taken out of their country of usual residence are "at risk of serious emotional and psychological problems," while left-behind parents have to deal with numerous obstacles as they battle to get their children back or even just for the right to see them again, she said. "They confront unfamiliar legal, cultural and linguistic barriers, suffer emotional trauma and face significant and long-term financial costs," said Jacobs, who was appointed last year to head the State Department's Office of Children's Issues (OCI).

The OCI is the central authority in the United States for the 1980 Hague Convention, an international agreement that requires kidnapped children to be returned promptly to their country of habitual residence.
It is also one of the fastest-growing offices in the State Department, "which sadly reflects the growth of international child abduction," Jacobs said. Jacobs was speaking a day after dozens of left-behind parents testified on Capitol Hill about the pain of having a child kidnapped by a spouse, and about parents' frustration in dealing with the OCI. Carlos Bermudez, who has been battling for three years to bring his son back from Mexico where he was taken at the age of one by his mother, said the OCI was unhelpful, mired in red tape, and more concerned with maintaining good international relations than bringing back kidnapped children. The OCI advised him badly, refused to give him legal advice and "essentially set me up for the failure of the Hague application for my son's return" to avoid a "potentially damaging international incident."
"They view American children's loss of their American families and heritage as acceptable collateral damage... We cannot continue to offer up our abducted American children as sacrificial lambs at the altar of pleasant bilateral relations," he said. Jacobs told AFP she was "deeply sorry that parents feel that we are not assisting them because I can assure you, that is our goal -- it's to help them resolve these horrible problems."

Copyright © 2011 AFP. All rights reserved

Link to Article

Monday, May 23, 2011

CNN Article: Japan takes a step closer to reforming its child custody laws

By Tricia Escobedo, CNN
May 21, 2011 1:17 a.m. EDT
(CNN) -- Bowing to intense international pressure, Japan has taken a step closer to changing its international child custody policies.

The Japanese Cabinet on Friday approved a plan that would bring the country's laws in line with the Hague convention on international child abduction, according to Prime Minister Naoto Kan's office. The plan basically requires an overhaul of Japan's family law system. It would put the Foreign Ministry in charge of the cases related to international child abduction, including finding abducted children, taking measures to prevent child abuse and advising parents on the voluntary return of children, according to a statement from Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano. The legislation would take into account child abuse, spousal abuse and a parent who faces criminal charges in his or her home country, the statement said. The plan approved by the Cabinet will be considered by Japan's legislature, where it is expected to face some resistance.

Even if it is approved, it could take years before Japan is ready to sign the Hague convention, which calls for the signatories to abide by the court rulings of each member country. Japan has been under intense international pressure to change how it deals with international child custody arrangements, particularly since the case of Christopher Savoie in 2009. Savoie, an American, triggered international news headlines after his arrest on child abduction charges in Japan. His two children had been taken to Japan by his ex-wife, despite a U.S. court order requiring Noriko Savoie to remain in the United States. Savoie traveled to Japan, where he has citizenship, and reclaimed the children, then headed for the nearest U.S. consulate, where he was arrested at the front gate. The charges were later dropped when Savoie agreed to return to the U.S. without his children.

Because Japan is not a party to the Hague convention on international child abduction, Tokyo did not recognize the U.S. court's ruling nor the subsequent arrest warrant for Noriko Savoie.
Savoie's case shone a light on hundreds of other similar situations in which Japanese ex-spouses have taken their children to Japan despite custody arrangements in the United States. Japan's current system does not recognize shared custody, even among the country's own citizens who reside in Japan.
"It's finders keepers -- possession is 99.9 percent of (Japan's) law," explains international family law attorney Jeremy Morley, who represented Savoie. That means it's extremely rare that a child of divorced parents in Japan will spend every other weekend at Mom or Dad's house -- a typical situation for children of divorced parents in the U.S. and other Western countries. "The other parent disappears completely," Morley said.

Morley, who has represented more than 100 parents, most of them fathers, called Friday's decision "a baby step in the right direction" for Japan. But he says that even if the country signs the Hague convention, it will have no effect on Savoie or any of his other clients. "It will certainly not help those people who have thus far lost children to Japan, because it will only take effect when it's put into force," Morley said. "It's definitely not going to be retroactive." However, if Japan truly overhauls its family law system -- instead of making "purely cosmetic" changes to please international critics -- that could bode well for his clients. "If they completely restructure their system so they can enforce court orders and ... have an environment where both parents have a right to participate in the life of their children after separating, that's going to take a long time," Morley said. "If they go through another charade, and the changes are purely cosmetic, that can happen much faster. So I hope, in a way it does take a long time."

The U.S. State Department acknowledges that "abductions to Japan represent one of the largest portfolios in the Office of Children's Issues and are among the most difficult to resolve." Since 1994, there have been 321 children abducted to or wrongfully retained in Japan, it said. None of those cases has been resolved. Morley credits Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with helping put pressure on Japan to change its system. However, he says there is tremendous opposition within Japan to the Hague convention. "There's a prevailing view that the Japanese mothers, who are the ones primarily removing children, are running back home to the safety of Japan because their American husbands are wife beaters," he said. He says he thinks Japan could address this concern by "watering down" any changes it makes to its family law system ahead of signing the Hague convention. Morley and Savoie have denied any physical abuse, and there have not been any charges. This month, a Tennessee court ordered Noriko Savoie to pay her ex-husband $1,000 each day she continues to "falsely imprison" the two children. The primary concern of Japan's government in deciding this matter will be "to ensure the welfare of children," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hidenobu Sobashima said Thursday. "Of course parental rights are important, too, and we should take into account the father's views and the mother's views," Sobashima said. Until then, Morley says, his clients -- even those lucky enough to see their children for an hour or two in a Japanese courtroom once a month -- will continue to be cut off as parents to their children.
CNN's Yoko Wakatsuki and Kyung Lah contributed to this report.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

U.S. State Dept. Issues Hague Abduction Convention Compliance Report

The U.S. Department of State (“Department”), Office of Children’s Issues (CI), U.S. Central Authority has issued its report on compliance with the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, covering the period from October 1, 2009, through December 31, 2010.

Notable points:

     1.  St.Kitts and Nevis was determined to be not compliant with the Convention.

2.     2.  Bermuda, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Honduras, Mexico and the Bahamas showed “patterns of noncompliance with the Convention.”

3.     3.  15 countries were “Countries with Enforcement Concerns” in which left-behind parents in the United States have not been able to secure prompt enforcement of a final return or access order during the reporting period. This includes an order resulting from a Hague proceeding; a U.S. custody, access or visitation order; or an access or visitation order by authorities in the country concerned, where the lack of enforcement is because of the absence of prompt and effective enforcement mechanisms, the lack of recognition of comity, or other factors. These countries were Argentina, Australia, Austria, Costa Rica, France, Germany, Honduras, Hungary, Israel, Romania,  South Africa, Spain, Switzerland and Turkey.

4.    4.  The State Department reported on the appointment of Ambassador Susan Jacobs as the first Special Advisor for Children’s Issues and her efforts to encourage Armenia,  Bangladesh, China, India, Japan, Laos, Nepal, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Timor-Leste and Zambia to become parties to the Convention, as well as discussions with Fiji and Thailand,  whose accession the United States has yet to accept under Convention.

5.    5.  The State Department reported on 18 countries where applications for return had remained open for more than 18 months after the date of filing. These are Argentina (three cases), Belgium, Brazil (6 cases), Canada (3 cases), Colombia (2 cases), Costa Rica, Ecuador, France (2 cases), Greece, Honduras (2 cases), Israel  (2 cases), Mexico (82 cases), Netherlands, Peru (3 cases), Romania, Slovakia, Spain and Turkey (2 cases).

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Parental Tug-of-War: Preventing International Child Abduction

My hot-off-the-press article entitled Parental Tug-of-War: Preventing International Child Abduction, in the just-released issue of GPSOLO, an American Bar Association publication, is now available on my website:
The article contains a host of practical tips on how to represent clients who are worried that their child may be abducted overseas and discusses the legal context of these cases.
It also contains advice on how to represent a parent who wants to take a child for a visit overseas over the opposition of the other parent.