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Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2009

Obama may press Japan on child abductions


Staff writer

OSAKA — U.S. President Barack Obama may take up Japan's refusal to sign the 1980 Hague Convention on parental child abductions when he meets with Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama on Friday, two Americans involved with the issue said.

Parental child abductions generally refer to cases in which an estranged spouse takes children away from their home, or country of residence, and refuses to return them, in many cases defying court orders in the home country.

"Various sources in the U.S. government have told me that the issue is on the agenda for the Obama-Hatoyama meeting," said U.S. Navy Cmdr. Paul Toland, who is based in the Washington area and is one of the key individuals involved in getting 22 senators to sign a recent letter urging Obama to put pressure on Hatoyama. However, given Obama's short visit, Toland said even if the issue is on the agenda the president may not have time to raise it sufficiently.

"There could be 10 or 15 items discussed between Obama and Hatoyama. But I'm fairly confident (the Hague Convention) will be taken up," Toland said.

Toland and his supporters have also been pressing the U.S. and Japanese governments to establish a task force to deal with the 79 cases involving more than 100 American children who have been abducted to Japan, as well as another roughly 30 cases that are classified as "denied access cases," where the parent seeking access lives in Japan but is refused access by the Japanese family holding the child.

"We're happy pressure is on Japan to sign the Hague Convention. But it's not retroactive to these cases, and they need (to be) resolved," said Toland, whose daughter, Erika, was 7 when his wife took her from the naval housing where they lived in Yokohama in 2003. The wife died in 2007 and Toland's former mother-in-law refuses to let him see the girl, even though both governments have urged her to grant visitation.



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