Feb. 26, 2008 — -- Kaya Wong's parents never imagined they would be able to have a baby.
Born three years after her mother was diagnosed with cancer, Kaya, now 4 years old, was a miracle.
But for Paul Wong, Kaya's father, the unimaginable soon became the unthinkable. Months after the cancer fatally spread to his wife's brain in 2005, Kaya, he says, was kidnapped by her maternal Japanese grandparents.
Despite being his daughter's sole surviving parent, he has few options available to him as an American in Japan — a historically xenophobic country that does not honor international child custody and kidnapping treaties. It's also a nation that has virtually no established family law and no tradition of dual custody.
He knows where his daughter lives, where she goes to school and how she spends her days, but despite the odd photograph from a family friend, he has not seen his daughter once in the last six months.
Wong is one of hundreds of so-called "left-behind" parents from around the world whose children have been abducted in Japan, the world's only developed nation that has not signed the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
There are currently 39 open cases involving 47 American children spirited away to Japan, a key American ally and trading partner, but many more go unreported. Not a single American child kidnapped to Japan has ever been returned to the United States through legal or diplomatic means, according to the State Department.
"This entire experience has left me heartbroken," Wong told ABCNEWS.com. "We always wanted children. My wife and I talked about starting a family for a long time, but because Akemi was sick we kept having to wait. When Kaya was born, I promised my wife that we would move to Japan so that our daughter would know about her Japanese heritage and Akemi, despite her own illness, could care for her elderly parents."
Wong, a 41-year-old lawyer, says he does not regret keeping his promise to his ailing wife, but his pledge set into motion a series of events that have kept him from seeing his only child.
"She's very energetic, outgoing, active, inquisitive innocent little girl. She is simply perfect, and sweet as can be. She is not afraid of anything," he said of his daughter during a phone interview from Japan. "I'm breaking up just thinking about her and talking about her. She loves to laugh and has a smile just like her mother's."
Kaya was born in San Francisco in 2003 and is a dual citizen of the United States and Japan. The young family lived in Hong Kong, with Akemi making occasional trips to California for treatment until she and Kaya moved in with her parents in Kyoto, Japan to rest after a treatment. Shortly thereafter, she passed away.
For more than a year after her mother's death in December 2005, Kaya continued to live with her grandparents, with Wong visiting monthly from Hong Kong as he worked to find a job that would allow him to move to Japan.
Once he found a job and was preparing to move, however, things suddenly changed.
"Once I moved to Tokyo last year, the grandparents did everything possible to keep Kaya away from me. When I said I'm taking her back, they filed a lawsuit against me filled with lies and claimed I had sexually assaulted my daughter. There are no facts and the evidence is completely flimsy."
According to Wong, with the exception of one long weekend in September 2007 when he took his daughter to Tokyo Disney, her grandparents were present every time he was with Kaya.
He said that a Japanese court investigator found that the girl was washed and inspected every day after a swimming lesson at her nursery school and her teachers never noticed signs of abuse.
ABCNEWS.com was unable to contact the grandparents Satoru and Sumiko Yokoyama, both in their 70s. State Department officials would not comment on the specifics of this case, but a spokesperson said that allegations of abuse were not uncommon in some abduction cases.
Kaya's grandparents are elderly pensioners. Under a Japanese program to stimulate the birth rate, families with young children receive a monthly stipend from the government, one reason Wong believes the grandparents have chosen to keep Kaya.