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Parental Abduction Becomes Growing International Problem

Parental child abduction is a growing international problem, often the result of a failed marriage that ends with one parent taking the children to a country where local laws offer protection. The problem affects parents in many countries, but one destination that has drawn particular attention is Japan, a country well-known for laws that protect Japanese parents who return home with their abducted children.

Parents of abducted children never forget the day that changed their lives forever. The children these fathers remember were not kidnapped by nannies, neighbors or strangers. They were abducted by their own mothers and taken to Japan.

The U.S. State Department estimates that hundreds of children from around the world have been abducted to Japan, many of them taken by a Japanese-born parent.

More than 20 American parents whose children were kidnapped to Japan recently met with State Department Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell.

The parents, who traveled from across the United States to meet with Campbell, have long expressed frustration with the State Department for not putting more pressure on Japan to return their children.

After the private meeting, Campbell commented on what the parents had to say. "There's a deep sense of aggrievement and they wanted to hear a report on the new U.S.-Japan bilateral agreement that has been established. And they have a very clear desire to see progress on their cases," he said.

Campbell added that he will continue to urge Japanese leaders to sign a global treaty to prevent parents from kidnapping their children from one country to another. Japan is one of several countries that have not signed The Hague Convention on International Child Abduction.

International family lawyers say of the 81 countries that have now signed the convention, some still do not fully comply with the treaty. They also note countries, like Japan, have hesitated to sign the convention because doing so would require their family law systems to be drastically changed.

Christopher Savoie, whose two children were taken to Japan by his ex-wife last year, despite a U.S. custody order, was recently jailed in Japan for attempting to bring his children back to America.

He says Japan has never in its history taken action to return a kidnapped child. "Japan is an absolute black hole for child abduction. The kids go in and not one has come out in 58 years," he said.

Many of the parents say they believe American officials have not made their children's return a high priority for fear of jeopardizing U.S.-Japanese diplomatic relations.

William Joseph Lake, whose daughter was kidnapped by her mother and taken to Japan, says it is time the issue be made a public concern for the U.S. government.

"Every day we're losing a day of our kids' childhood. I mean, how do you get it back? There's just no way that you can get it back. And our children are paying the price because this is parental alienation. They're cut off -- directly cut off -- from an entire half of their family. I want to see this raised to a higher diplomatic level and I want to see more concern by the president, more concern by [U.S.] Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton. I want to see this raised to a higher level instead of just kept to the back rooms by the ministers of Japan," Lake said.

Department Assistant Secretary of State Campbell says he will push for progress on the issue with Japanese officials in upcoming trips to Japan.

Campbell is set to meet again with the parents of abducted children in three months to discuss the steps taken to resolve their cases. The parents, many of whom have been fighting for their children for years, say they can only hope for the best.