It may be a Georgia father’s worst nightmare: his foreign ex-wife leaves the country with his child and there is nothing he can do to get his child back. While this may seem like the plot of movie, it is a tragic reality for many Americans. Japan is one of many countries that traditionally grant child custody and parental rights to one parent and almost never to foreign fathers. Over 170 American children have been taken away from one parent, usually a father, by a Japanese parent.

A group of activists, primarily made up of American and other foreign fathers, recently marched in Japan in order to push for government officials to sign an international treaty on parental child abduction and father’s rights. The march contained about 24 people who are currently separated from their half-Japanese children. The mothers of the children will not allow joint child custody and Japanese law generally protects them.

The group chose to march at the same time as Vice President Joe Biden was visiting in an effort to spur conversation between American and Japanese officials. Even though the event was located near where Biden and the Japanese Prime Minister were to meet, it is unknown if the Vice President was told about the march.

The group wants Japan to sign the Hague Convention on Aspects of International Child Abduction. The Japanese government has not signed the Convention, despite a recent promise to do so. If ratified, it could return children to their usual place of residence if a parent fled with the child to another country. According to Japanese officials, the treaty could take years to be signed because Japan needs to first change its domestic laws.

Source: Stars and Stripes, “Left-behind fathers urge U.S. to push Japan to sign Hague treaty,” Charlie Reed, Aug. 23, 2011