WASHINGTON — A US congressional panel on Tuesday advanced a bill that would punish nations for not addressing child abductions, putting pressure on Japan which has never returned a child to foreign parents.
The House foreign affairs subcommittee on human rights approved a bill that would pave the way to call off cultural or scientific exchanges or deny export licenses to countries that do not promptly seek to resolve abduction cases.
“Our current system with its endless delays and lack of proper accountability has failed too many,” said Representative Chris Smith, a Republican from New Jersey and chairman of the subcommittee.
“It is time for an approach that backs our demands for adherence to international obligations with penalties and makes very clear to foes and friends alike that our children are our priority,” he said.
The measure still needs approval from the full committee and House of Representatives along with the Senate to become law.
While the bill would apply to all countries, the United States has the most pending cases with Japan where US parents have pursued more than 120 cases to seek access to their half-Japanese children.
Japanese courts virtually never grant custody to foreign parents, especially men, and authorities have never returned overseas a child snatched to Japan.
Japan long argued that it is protecting women from abuse. But under growing foreign pressure, Japanese leaders have voiced support for ratifying the 1980 Hague convention that requires countries to return children to the country where they usually live.
But even if Japan signed the treaty, it would only apply to future cases.
Doug Berg, who served with the US military in Japan, said that his two children were abducted in 2009 and that he has not heard from them even after last year’s devastating tsunami.
“The only time I ever get to see them, really, is when I dream about them. I don’t know where they’re living. I’m not allowed to know,” he said.
“That’s a shame that we call that country an ally of ours,” he said.
The bill would call on the president to make a diplomatic demarche to another country if a child abduction case is pending for more than six weeks.
If a country has 10 or more cases pending, the United States could take tougher action such as refusing to grant export licenses for goods, withholding aid and canceling exchanges or official visits.