Spirited Away: Japan Won't Let Abducted Kids Go

In April 2007, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., sent a letter to President Bush about child abduction on the occasion of the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to the United States.

"I am very concerned over Japan's lack of assistance in these cases and urge you to insist that Japan cooperate fully with the United States and other countries on international parental child abductions. Furthermore, I hope you will press Prime Minister Abe to support the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction and to implement a formal two-parent signature requirement for obtaining passports for minors," the letter stated.

The Japanese government would not comment on specific cases of child abduction and in an exclusive statement to ABCNEWS.com never used the word "abduction."

"We sympathize with the plight of parents and children who are faced with issues of this kind, which are increasing in number as international exchange between people expands," reads a statement from the Japanese Embassy in Washington, D.C.

The embassy said that the Hague Convention was inconsistent with Japanese law, but that joining the convention was still under review.

"Regarding the possibility of Japan's joining the Hague Convention, we must point out that [the] Japanese legal system related to child custody is quite different from the underlying concept of the Hague Convention. Japanese courts always take into consideration what the best interest of a child is with respect to each individual case, while the Convention provides the relevant judicial or administration authorities in principle [to] order the return of the child, unless the limited exceptions apply."

Few Successes

Left-behind parents are used to hearing similar language from Japanese judges and American diplomats relaying messages from their Japanese counterparts.

"We strongly believe that it is in the best interest of a child to have access to both parents," said the State Department's Bond.

She said a child has never been returned to the United States as a result of diplomatic negotiation or legal wrangling, and knew of only three cases where children were reunited with their American parents — "two in which the parents reconciled and one in which a 15-year-old ran away."

Michael C. Gulbraa of Salt Lake City is the father of that 15-year-old, his now 17-year-old son Christopher. Christopher returned to the United States in 2006, and calling him a runaway undermines years of careful planning by his father to ensure that if his son wanted to get out of Japan he would be able to.

After Gulbraa and his wife divorced in April 1996, she gained custody of Christopher and his older brother Michael K. Gulbraa.

In 1999, when the boys were 8 and 9 years old, Gulbraa learned that his wife's second husband was under investigation for abusing his biological son.

After months of investigation by court-appointed guardians and experts, his ex-wife, Etsuko Tanizaki Allred, feared she would lose custody and took the boys to Japan in 2001.

In 2002, the court gave Gulbraa custody and charged Allred under Utah law with felony custodial interference and a federal international kidnapping statute. Despite the international warrants for Allred, Japanese courts did not require her to return their children to Gulbraa.

"That's how things remained until July 2006. I did everything I could think of. I even petitioned the Vatican to intervene," he said.

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