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US lawmakers seek accords on abducted children

Rep. Christopher Smith speaks at a press conference on September 24, 2010 at of the US Capitol in Washington, DC
Rep. Christopher Smith speaks at a press conference on September 24, 2010 at of the US Capitol in Washington, DC

A congressional committee called Thursday for the United States to reach legal agreements with Japan and other countries to help resolve hundreds of cases of children abducted by estranged parents.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee approved a bill to require the US secretary of state to reach memoranda of understanding with all nations not party to the 1980 Hague Convention, which requires the return of kidnapped children to wherever they usually live.

The bill, which needs approval of the full House of Representatives and Senate, would seek to establish a mechanism with each country so that children would be returned within six weeks of an abduction report.

"Parental child abduction is child abuse. These victims are American citizens who need the help of their government when normal legal processes are unavailable or fail," Representative Chris Smith, the sponsor of the bill, said at a hearing which took place despite a partial government shutdown.

Smith named the bill after David Goldman, who succeeded in bringing his son Sean back to the United States after a five-year fight with Brazilian courts.

The largest number of US cases involve Japan, whose courts virtually never grant custody to foreign parents, even if the Japanese mother has died.

Paul Toland, who attended the hearing, said he has not seen his daughter Erika since she was an infant in 2003. After the death of her mother, Erika has been in custody of her maternal grandmother.

"Hopefully, this bill will stir the government to action to help bring our kids home," said Toland, who served in Japan in the US Navy.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, like his predecessor, has voiced support for Japan's entrance into the Hague Convention.

But parents have voiced concern that, even if Japan's parliament ratifies the treaty, it would only apply to future cases.

The State Department has said that it puts a top priority on resolving abductions, although it has stopped short of supporting moves by lawmakers to impose sanctions over the issue.

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