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Calling on Japan to Address Child Abduction Cases

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, first of all let me thank Chairman Berman and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, our Ranking Member, for their leadership in helping to shepherd this legislation to the floor today, and I want to thank my good friend and colleague Mr. Moran for his sponsorship. I am very proud to join him as the original cosponsor of this very important and very timely resolution.

You know, Mr. Speaker, last year we learned and really the country learned a great deal about this growing problem of international child abduction with the case of David Goldman, whose son was abducted for 5 years at the time, to Brazil. Thankfully, after a full court press, he was not only reunited, but he is now safe, father and son, in New Jersey.

But what we learned, the lessons learned from that, was that far too little has been done to help the other 2,800 American children who have been abducted to foreign countries, often in defiance of court orders that had said you cannot leave.

This resolution that we are considering today, H. Res. 1326, is an urgent appeal to the government of Japan to end its complicity and/or its indifference to international child abduction.

Frankly, Mr. Speaker, American patience has finally run out. At present, at least 136 American children are being held in Japan against the wishes of their American parent, and in many cases, in violation of valid U.S. court orders. According to the Department of Defense, in 2009 alone--and we just got this by way of a report--10 American children were abducted to Japan from members of the U.S. Armed Forces. That's in 2009 alone. It is simply unacceptable and unconscionable that today Japan still has no mechanism to equitably issue and enforce a return or visitation order for children. It is intolerable that the lawless and damaging act of child abduction goes unpunished in a civilized nation. When an American parent who has taken every legal precaution to ensure their child is not abducted realizes that his or her child has disappeared, their heart breaks and a lifetime of waiting and pleading for action by both the U.S. and the Japanese Government begins.

Patrick Braden is one such father. Mr. Braden took every possible legal precaution to protect his daughter from abduction and to maintain his presence in her life as her father. However, in 2006, Mr. Braden's infant daughter, Melissa, was abducted from her home by her mother, in violation of a Los Angeles Superior Court order giving both parents access to the child and prohibiting international travel with the child by either parent. Mr. Braden has been unjustly cut off from his daughter by the covert illegal actions of the mom and daily worries that his daughter is being abused by a grandparent who has a history of such abuse.

Likewise, Sergeant Michael Elias hopes and waits and pleads with two governments, the U.S. Government and the Japanese Government, because we haven't done enough to work out some way of reuniting his family. While stationed in Japan, he met the woman who would become his wife. She came to the United States and they were married in New Jersey in 2005. Jade was born in 2006 and Michael in 2007. Sadly, his wife started an affair while Michael was on active duty in Iraq.

Their marriage came to an end in 2008, with a judge granting both parents custody and requiring the surrender of the children's American and Japanese passports because their mother had threatened to abduct the children. Tragically, the Japanese consulate reissued Japanese passports for the children in violation of the valid U.S. court orders restricting travel and in violation of U.S. federal criminal parental kidnapping statutes. Sergeant Elias has not seen his children since 2008. And the Japanese Government has done nothing to assist in their return or in the return of Patrick Braden's daughter.

And the list goes on. Chris Savoie's children, Isaac and Rebecca Savoie, were abducted in 2009 to Japan by their mother, in violation of a Tennessee State order of joint custody and in violation of Tennessee statutes. As a result of the mother's selfish actions, Mr. Savoie has been awarded sole custody of the children, but Japan will not recognize either the joint custody or the sole custody award. Although Chris is the children's father, the Japanese Government will not enforce any access or communication with his children.

Mr. Speaker, for 50 years we have seen all talk and no action on the part of the Japanese Government. Japan has never issued and enforced a legal decision to return a single American child. The circumstances of each particular abduction seem not to matter. Once in Japan, the abducting parent is untouchable and the children are bereft of their American parent for the rest of their childhood. France, Canada, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, and the United Kingdom have all repeatedly asked Japan to work with them on returning their abducted children. Japan's inaction on the issue is a thorn in the side of their relations with the entire international community.

Japan's current inaction violates its duties under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Article 23, completely and unjustly ignoring the equal rights of one parent. H. Res. 1326 calls upon Japan to immediately and urgently establish a process for the resolution of abduction and wrongful retention of American children. Japan must find the will to establish today a process that would justly and equitably end the cruel separation currently endured by parents and children alike.

H. Res. 1326 also calls on Japan to join the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The Convention sets out the international norms for resolution of abduction and wrongful retention cases and would create a framework to quickly resolve future cases--and would act as a deterrent to parents who now feel that they can abduct their child to Japan and never be caught. In light of the misuse of Japanese consulates in the Elias case, H. Res. 1326 also calls on Japan to ensure that its consulates are not accessories to parental kidnapping. Japan must put into place a system that stops the issuing or reissuing of passports without the explicit and verifiable consent of the American parent.

Finally, Japan must recognize the terrible damage to children and families caused by international child abduction. Children who have suffered an abduction are at risk of serious emotional and psychological problems and have been found to experience anxiety, eating problems, nightmares, mood swings, sleep disturbances, aggressive behavior, resentment, guilt, and fearfulness, and as adults may struggle with identity issues, their own personal relationships, and parenting.

I urge my colleagues to support H. Res. 1326, calling on Japan to end the child abuse of international child abduction.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. I yield myself 2 minutes.

Mr. Speaker, after all of the publicity surrounding David Goldman, several people, including Patrick Braden, walked into my office and said that they had been totally frustrated not just by the Japanese Government but, to some extent, by our own.

We need the tools at the State Department, at the Office of Children's Issues, to more effectively promote the interests of American parents and of American abducted children. I've introduced legislation, and my good friend JIM MORAN is one of the cosponsors. It is legislation which would comprehensively give the Administration real tools to make this a government-to-government fight rather than a David versus Goliath fight, where it is one individual fighting a court system and a government in a faraway land.

Paul Toland walked into my office, who is JIM MORAN'S constituent--he walked into his office as well--and we have both been trying to help him. Here is a man who served honorably as a commander in the United States Navy; and for over 6 years, close to 7 years, he has not seen his daughter. As my good friend and colleague pointed out, the grandmother has custody. Just like David Goldman, his wife had passed away, the man whose son was abducted to Brazil, and somebody else had custody of his child. Paul Toland's case is similar.

Patrick Braden invited me down to the Japanese Embassy. I have to tell you, as a father of four, I was moved to tears when a group of left-behind parents and people concerned about left-behind parents and abducted children gathered in front of the Japanese Embassy.

So what did Patrick do?

In a very dignified and very respectful way, he requested that he at least get to see his child. It was her birthday that day. There was a birthday cake to Melissa, who was halfway around the world. We all sang Happy Birthday, and he blew out the candles. He was missing her again for another year. It goes on and on.

This has to be resolved, Mr. Speaker. We need our President, our Secretary of State and the Congress to get behind these left-behind parents and to get behind bringing back our abducted children. If there is a custody issue, resolve it in the courts of habitual residence.

That's where those custody issues need to be fought out, not in a land like Japan where abduction is treated with kid gloves and actually embraced. I said previously, ``with indifference.'' Sometimes I wonder if it's indifference in the way the Japanese Government deals with this. They are a safe harbor for child abductors, and that brings dishonor to the government, in my opinion.

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Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. I yield myself the balance of my time to conclude.

I want to thank my friend for his leadership on this. This is a bipartisan issue. This is a human rights issue of American parents and of American children. We rightfully speak out on human rights abuses in China and Darfur and all over the world wherever and whenever they occur. This is a human rights abuse that's occurring against our own families, and our government--and this goes through successive administrations, Republican and Democrat--does not do enough.

You know, I don't know how many you have ever seen that Seinfeld episode with the Penske file which gets moved around from left to right and George doesn't do anything of, really, substance with it. We have very good people at the State Department who have these files in hand that would love to do more but they lack the tools. They lack the ability authorized by this Congress and by law to take it to the next level.

This is a government-to-government fight. Had it not been for the Congress rallying around David Goldman, Sean Goldman would still be in Brazil today because there would have been another appeal in the court and another appeal. They run out the clock and then the child is an adult. That's what is happening to all 2,800 American abducted children. The abductors are playing a game, a very dangerous game; and in Japan, as Mr. Moran and I know so well, nobody comes back.

Our government has to get serious. This resolution puts all of us on record and says we mean business. This is only the first step.

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