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  Europe
Well, it’s About Time!
President Obama Weighs-in to the Japanese Child Abduction Row
By Shane Clarke
London Correspondent
US President Barack Obama

As a religious man, I believe in miracles. We see them, hear about them, or read about them every day. They’re all around us. There’s the miracle of birth, the miracle of a woman and her child surviving the car they were in being crushed to half its size by a lorry, and the miracle of my teenage daughter tidying her room.

Yes, we have a lot to thank God for. For instance, we have a television program in the UK called the Jeremy Kyle Show, on which the toothless, jobless dregs of British society are paraded before a studio audience for what one District Judge described as “human bear-baiting”. This takes the form of alcoholics and junkies – most of whom think the word “condom” is just something they heard in a Vietnam War film once – take lie detector tests to prove their fidelity, or DNA tests to find out which one of a selection of men is the father to their child, and then argue about it while the skinny, rather camp Mr Kyle shouts at them, throwing in phrases such as “put something on the end of it”, and “get off your backside and get a job”. I thank God every day that I’m not one of the people on that show.

Anyway, I digress. I’m pleased to report that a genuine miracle has taken place in the last couple of days – President Barack Obama has finally entered the Japanese child abduction row. He is the first high-profile leader to do so. Thank you, God. Oh, and thank you Barack Obama.

Obviously, the extent of his involvement and the effect it will have are still to be seen. But at least he has thrown his hat into the ring and joined the chorus of disapproval for this most heinous of crimes. I always knew there was something about him that made him the only politician I don’t dislike.

Kurt Campbell, the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, gave a briefing on Wednesday about the President’s first meeting with new Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda at the UN. US President Barack Obama discussed Japan’s decision to sign up to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, and the need to resolve existing cases that otherwise would not be helped by the Convention since it doesn’t act retroactively.

According to Mr Campbell, Prime Minister Noda acknowledged the existing cases and said that he would, “take special care to focus on these particular issues as Japan also works to implement the joining of the Hague Convention.”

Well, on behalf of left-behind parents everywhere, I would just say, ‘Thank you, Prime Minister Noda. However, please remember that talk is cheap, and I hope you won’t mind that we won’t get too excited until the first child is returned from Japan to its rightful home.’

Just as an aside – I also hope he stays in office long enough to see it through. In recent years, Japan’s Government has had a bigger staff turnover than the Afghanistan branch of the George W Bush fan club.

As is only to be expected, President Obama is focussing only on American cases. This is perfectly reasonable, I guess. It was they who voted for him after all. I think I can safely say that not one British national in the UK voted for him.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for David “Crafty” Cameron. Many people in the UK voted for that nob – not enough to give him a clear majority, mind you, but enough to put him into power with the support of his political fag, “Little Nicky” Clegg.

Now all the unfortunate British left-behind parents can hope for is that Captain Bandwagon lives up to his image and follows Obama’s lead, but pushing British interests. I won’t hold my breath, but I sincerely hope that I am wrong about him this time.

I spoke to the Downing Street Press Office about this issue, and – as usual – they deflected it, saying that “the Government is doing everything it can at all levels, but this is really a matter for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.” I guess Crafty Cameron’s “family values” don’t stretch to child abduction.

The Foreign Office, on the other hand, do take the matter seriously, and work tirelessly to stamp out this abomination. However, you can’t help thinking how much more success they would have if the Prime Minister spoke out about it.

You could argue that the Foreign Office is a part of the Government, to which I would counter – it was there before Cameron came along, and it will still be there when he’s gone…hopefully. What the problem needs is the government’s leader to get involved.

Now, more than ever, it is vitally important that the Prime Minister addresses this issue personally. The FCO has reported an increase of 10% in parental child abductions from the UK in the last year; proof – if needed – that the problem is growing and that, like so many other problems, the government needs to act sooner rather than later to prevent things getting out of hand.

Figures provided by the Foreign Office today show the number of abductions to all non-Hague countries having risen from 146 in 2009/2010 to 161 in 2010/2011. That’s another 161 children ripped from their homes, families and everything they know in the past year. The FCO works hard every day to bring them home, but at the moment it’s like David Haye fighting Wladimir Klitschko – all the rhetoric is there, the FCO talks a good fight, but they need that extra bit of muscle to score a knockout; a spokesperson told me today that “HMG continues to actively lobby countries where we have a significant number of abduction cases, or where we have encountered specific problems, to sign the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of Child Abduction.”

In an effort to prevent the problem arising in the first place, the FCO launched a campaign recently to help tackle it by making parents aware of the signs to look out for that might suggest an impending abduction. It’s a great idea – it really is, but it has one fatal flaw: How many people even think of looking at the Foreign Office website before marrying a foreign national? How many people realise the problem exists at all and is so serious? How many people have heard of the Hague Convention? I have an honours degree in law, and I certainly didn’t have a clue that things were this bad. I thought it would just be a matter of calling the police, or the Foreign Office, as most people do, and they would sort everything out.

Now, I’m not knocking the Police or the Foreign Office. Both bodies go over and above the call of duty to resolve child abductions, but they need someone with a bit of oomph! to help them. In Britain’s case, that person is David Cameron. Love him or hate him, the reality is that we need him.

So, we all live in hope, and we pray that Cameron finally proves us all wrong and shows that he does genuinely care about family values, that he does want a society in which children have access to both parents, and that he does care about all people – not just the ones with seven-figure bank balances.

I would gladly prostrate myself at his feet should he prove that I’ve been wrong about him for the past four years. I would have a tee-shirt printed with “I Love David Cameron” printed on it, and wear it every day. I would even have his name tattooed across my chest, even though I would cry like a baby because of the pain.

However, I don’t think I’ll buy the tissues just yet…



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Shane Clarke serves as London Correspondent for The Seoul Times. He has been involved in humanitarian work for numerous years. He’s also a freelance management consultant. Having completed an honors degree in Law at Wolverhampton University, he then moved on to an MBA at Warwick Business School. He’s heavily involved in the fight against international parental child abduction to Japan.

 

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