TOKYO, Feb. 15, 2011— -- Thousands of miles away, hundreds of American children are being kept in Japan, victims of parental abduction, out of reach of their other parent and out of reach of the U.S. government.
Among the circles of left-behind parents in the U.S., many of them fathers, Japan is known as a safe haven for parental abductions. Once overseas, the parent who abducted the child is protected by the Japanese government's unwillingness to sign the Hague Convention, a treaty that provides for the return of abducted children to their home country.
The U.S. Department of State has tried for years to negotiate Japan's signature on the Hague Convention and to try and resolve some of the 321 cases that have been filed with the department during the last 17 years. But not one child has ever been returned to the U.S. from Japan through diplomatic measures, according to the State Department.
Below are the stories of three American fathers who are desperately seeking contact with their children.
Having a family wasn't something Michael Elias planned on as a young Marine stationed in Okinawa, Japan. But after his Japanese girlfriend Mayumi called him with the news she was pregnant with their daughter, Elias said he eagerly made the transition into husband and father.
He brought Mayumi to the United States and married her. Their daughter, Jade, was born months later.
Just before Elias deployed to Iraq in 2007, they found out Mayumi was pregnant again. Their son Michael was born while he was overseas.
With his young family waiting for him at home, Elias counted the days until he returned to the United States. But his Humvee was hit by an IED and Elias, blown back into the cabin, suffered a traumatic brain injury.
When he returned home, he said, things had changed.
"It wasn't the same as when I had left," he said
Mayumi soon began dating another Japanese national – a travel agent. Elias got a girlfriend.
But when the two went to court to begin deciding custody for Jade and baby Michael, a judge ordered neither party to leave New Jersey with the children – and demanded Mayumi turn over the children's American and Japanese passports, which she did.
Months later, in December 2008, Mayumi disappeared with the children, taking them to Japan.
Elias, who later learned through flight records that his children had been given duplicate passports at a Japanese consulate, was devastated.
He has since been cut off from all contact with his children. He last saw an image of Jade, now 5, in a Skype conversation more than a year ago. He fears his son Michael, now 3 1/2, will no longer remember him.
ABC News was unable to locate Mayumi for comment.
Elias is hoping the U.S. Department of State will someday be able to bring his children back home.
"When I was asked to serve in a war I did it without question," Elias said. "And now all I ask is for something [that] belongs to not only me, this country."