House of Reps. to Japan: Send Our Children Home
Smith Shepherds Anti-Child Abduction Bill to Passage
A bill addressing the plight of American children and desperate left behind parents who are victims of international child abduction to Japan passed the House of Representatives with overwhelming support today.A bill addressing the plight of American children and desperate left behind parents who are victims of international child abduction to Japan passed the House of Representatives with overwhelming support today.
Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04) managed the debate in the House chamber late yesterday on the bill, H. Res. 1326, which focuses on the increasingly high profile topic of children who have been abducted to Japan, the only industrialized country that has not signed the international treaty to help prevent international parental child abduction. Smith teamed up with Rep. Jim Moran (VA-08) in April to unveil and introduce H.Res. 1326, the bipartisan calling on the Government of Japan to resolve the 95 cases involving 136 American children abducted to Japan. The bill passed 416-1.
“We need our President, our Secretary of State, and the Congress to get behind these left behind parents,” said Smith, a senior Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a Congressional Representative to the United Nations. “This is a bipartisan issue. This is a human rights issue affecting American parents and American children. We rightfully speak out about human rights abuses in China, in Darfur, and all over the world. Japan is a safe harbor for child abductors and that brings dishonor to the Japanese government.” (Click here to read excerpts of Congressman Smith’s floor remarks.)
Smith pointed out the long, yet ultimately successful battle of a left-behind parent from New Jersey, David Goldman, to bring his American-born son, now 10, home from Brazil last December. The case generated international attention has re-energized many parents still fighting to regain their parental rights to raise their own children.
“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 five years to Brazil,” Smith said. “David and Sean are now home living together as they should in New Jersey, but the lessons learned from the Goldman case is 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 said you cannot leave.”
During the floor debate Smith recounted the injustice and heart-wrenching stories of many of the American parents who have been victimized by the abduction of their children. He specifically highlighted the Rutherford, New Jersey case of Jade Elias, born in 2006, and Michael Elias, born in 2007, who were abducted in 2008 by their mother who obtained illegal travel documents from Japanese consulates in the United States in violation of U.S. court orders restricting travel. Their father, ex-Marine Sgt. Michael Elias, an Iraq War veteran, has battled to see his children again.
“Sgt. Elias has not seen his children since 2008, and the Japanese government has done nothing to assist in their return,” Smith said. He also cited the case of Melissa Braden, born in 2006, who was abducted from her home in 2006 by her mother and taken to Japan in violation of previous Los Angeles Superior Court orders prohibiting travel to Japan. Her father, Patrick Braden, who hasn’t seen Melissa since, has become a passionate leader in the fight to address child abduction.
“Mr. Braden took every possible legal precaution to protect his daughter from abduction and to maintain his presence in her life as her father,” Smith said. “Mr. Braden has been unjustly cut off from his daughter and daily worries that his daughter is being abused by a grandparent who has a history of such abuse.”
Smith also cited other cases, including Erika Toland who was abducted in 2003 from Negishi U.S. Navy family housing in Yokohama to Tokyo, Japan, by her now deceased mother and is being held by her Japanese maternal grandmother, while being denied access to her father since 2004, while he—Paul Toland of Virginia—fights to be reunited. He also spoke of the case of Isaac and Rebecca Savoie who were abducted in 2009 to Japan by their mother in violation of a Tennessee State court order of joint custody and Tennessee statutes, and have been denied any communication with their father, who had been awarded sole custody in this highly publicized case.
Smith likened the Goldman case to the case of Toland, who came to Smith after learning of Smith’s work on the Brazilian abduction case.
“Paul Toland walked into my office,” Smith said. “Here is a man who served honorably as a commander in the United States Navy, and for over six years, close to seven years, he has not seen his daughter.”
Goldman, Braden and Toland were among the left behind parents who gave powerful testimonies at a congressional hearing Smith held in December 2009 on international child abduction, which Elias also attended.
NEW DOD REPORT SHOWS IMPACT ON ARMED SERVICES - Smith also told his colleagues about a recently released DoD report, required by his legislative proposal in 2009 (Section 570 of the National Defense Authorization Act, Public Law 111-84) that found that the number of new cases reported of children of members of the Armed Forces abducted during Fiscal Years 2007-2009 was 75. The report shows further that 17 of these military children were victims of child abductions to Japan. This number is the largest of any other country where U.S. armed forces serve. Overall, there are 300 military and civilian children who have been abducted to Japan since 1994 when the U.S. State Department began quantifying cases reported to them (it is expected there are many more non-reported cases).
Smith said that parents left behind when their children are abducted to Japan have little hope and little recourse for justice because the Japanese government ignores U.S. family court rulings and will not honor the rights of American parents. There is no known case of Japan ever returning an abducted Japanese-American child to the left behind parent.
“U.S. legislative and administrative action is needed to bring our children home,” Smith said. “This has to be resolved. This resolution today is only the first step. The incidence of international child abduction has almost doubled—increased 100 percent—since 2006. We must turn the tide and ensure the safety of our children.”
Smith has been working to push Congress and the Administration to better address international child abductions in Japan and elsewhere. In July 2009, he introduced the “The International Child Abduction Prevention Act of 2009”, H.R. 3240, for left-behind parents whose children have been abducted to Japan, Brazil and other countries (bill summary). H.R. 3240 requires the President to respond with a range of penalties, including sanctions against a country that has shown a pattern of non-cooperation in resolving child abduction cases.