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US House votes to get tough on child abduction

12 december 2013, 14:00
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Chris Smith, the author of the legislation. ©Reuters/Bruno Domingos
Chris Smith, the author of the legislation. ©Reuters/Bruno Domingos
The US House of Representatives voted Wednesday to punish countries that do not promptly return abducted children, upping pressure in an issue that has soured relations with Japan and other allies, AFP reports.

With no dissenting votes, the House voted to create an annual report to assess every country's record on child abductions and to require President Barack Obama to take action against nations with poor records.

Potential US measures include refusing export licenses for US technology, cutting development assistance and putting off scientific or cultural exchanges. The president would have the right to waive the punishment.

Representative Chris Smith, the author of the legislation, said it would put the force of the US government behind solving the more than 1,000 cases each year in which US children are taken overseas, generally by a foreign parent after separation from an American partner.

"It is a full-court press to finally elevate this issue, where American children's human rights are being violated with impunity," Smith told reporters.

"Right now, it's like other human rights abuses, maybe on page 5 as an asterisk" in talks between the United States and other countries, he said.

Smith, a Republican from New Jersey, previously led legislation that set up annual reports on human trafficking and religious freedom, which have often caused discomfort for countries deemed to be lagging behind.

The child abduction legislation still needs approval in the Democratic-led Senate, but Smith voiced confidence at passage as the bill has been revised over several years to ensure support of both parties. The State Department had initially voiced concern at proposals to impose outright economic sanctions over child abductions.

By far the greatest number of abduction cases takes place in Japan, the only major industrialized nation that has not ratified the 1980 Hague convention that requires countries to send abducted children back to the countries where they usually live.

In the wake of persistent US and European criticism, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has voiced support for joining the Hague treaty. But even if the Japanese parliament moves ahead, the decision would only affect future cases.

The House legislation calls on the United States to seek legislation with all nations not party to the Hague convention to lay out ways to return children within six weeks after abduction cases are submitted to authorities.

Smith named the bill after David Goldman, who succeeded in bringing his son Sean back to the United States after a five-year fight with Brazilian courts.

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