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Seoul's noncompliance with child abduction convention will pressure Yoon: lawmaker

May 5, 2023 - 16:39 By Son Ji-hyoung

South Korea's continued noncompliance with the Hague Abduction Convention designed to prevent the international abduction of children by a parent might pressure the Yoon Suk Yeol administration which seeks to bolster ties with the US, a lawmaker said Friday.

The continued failure of Seoul to enforce the return of children to the US in international abduction cases could spark diplomatic trouble between Seoul and Washington, according to Rep. Park Yong-jin of the main opposition Democratic Party of Korea.

Such abduction cases tend to involve the denial of a request by a US citizen to bring their child, born between them and a Korean spouse, back to US soil after the Korean parent took the child away to Korea.

Seoul may face various forms of protests through diplomatic channels, which could potentially lead to a cancellation of a US state visit to Korea or discontinued US support for security on the Korean Peninsula by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, according to Park who cited the US law.

President Yoon, who returned to Seoul earlier this week after announcing the adoption of the "Washington Declaration" for extended deterrence with US President Joe Biden, "will face a pressure if Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon continues to neglect concerns stemming from international child abduction cases," Park of the main opposition noted on social media.

The remarks came after the US Department of State said Wednesday it would continue "intense engagement" with the Korean authorities to address Seoul's failure to enforce return orders in abduction cases, in an annual report on international child abduction submitted to the US Congress.

The report also indicated that Korea has demonstrated a pattern of noncompliance in the past couple of years. Korea was one of such countries showing noncompliance for two consecutive years along with 13 countries including Argentina, Egypt, Ecuador, Honduras, India, Jordan, Peru and Romania.

As of 2022, there were four cases of international abduction by Korean parents who brought a total of six children to Korea. The two cases have remained unresolved for more than 12 months.

Among them are John Sichi, whose Korean wife left their home in San Francisco in 2019 with their two children and has since refused to comply with the return order by authorities and courts in the US and Korea. The same happened to Korean-American Jay Sung, as his ex-wife took their son back to Korea in the middle of their divorce and refuses to return the child in spite of the court orders.

"Unless the parent voluntarily complied with a return order under the (Hague) Convention, judicial decisions in Convention cases in the (Korea) were generally not enforced, which contributed to a pattern of noncompliance," read the report.

The Justice Ministry responded in a statement Wednesday that it has failed to enforce return orders because the Korean bylaw stipulates a return order cannot be enforced when a child who is old enough to decide refuses to return to the US.

The ministry added that the failure in enforcement stems from cultural differences and a disparity in the legal systems between the US and Korea, while the two countries remain on the same page regarding human rights protection.

Korea joined the Hague Convention in 2012 and ratified it into Korean law in 2013.