Very interesting story from Yonhap (later picked up by Ye Old Chosun, Dong-A Ilbo, etc.) about a Korean mother trying to get her kid back after her American father ran away with the child to America.

Unfortunately for her, she’s running into serious problems, mostly of Korea’s own making it would seem.

The mother, 40-year-old Kim Hyeon-jeong (fake name), has filed a suit in a US court and sent petitions to Korean-American groups in the United States, and she is considering all means of getting her kid back, but so far nothing is working.

Kim married her husband, 42-year-old American English teacher Brian Smith (fake name), in 2005 after several years of dating. In February of this year, however, her husband ran away to the United States with their 15-month-old child while Kim was at work.

Kim claims a lot of planning went into this. Her husband, who had a lot of complaints about Korean culture and his life in Korea which apparently wer later by marital discord, conducted a test run to take away her child with an American work colleague. And one month prior to running away to the States, he turned in Kim’s US green card (Marmot’ Note: Is that possible?).

Kim looked for ways to get her child back, but Korea’s status as a non-party to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction has proven a stumbling block.

In case you were wondering what that convention was, this is from the Wikipedia link above:

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, or Hague Abduction Convention is a multilateral treaty developed by the Hague Conference on Private International Law that provides an expeditious method to return a child internationally abducted by a parent from one member nation to another.

Currently, 84 countries are party to the convention.

Korea, however, is not one of them. A bill to join the convention was introduced to the 18th National Assembly, but it got tied up in committee and automatically died with the beginning of the 19th National Assembly.

In April, Kim filed for divorce in a Korean court and was granted custody of her kid.

She then submitted the Korean court’s decision to a district court in Oklahoma, where her now ex-husband and child live, and asked that her child be handed over.

The US court, however, deferred executing the Korean court’s decision for 60 days, saying it could not determine whether Korean court decisions regarding foreigners were fair. In September, the US court outright refused to execute the Korean court’s decision, arguing that Korea was a non-party to the Hague Abduction Convention and Korean courts were so biased against Americans that it approached the level of a human rights violation.


Kim appealed the decision, and the matter has gone to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

Clutching at straws, she is also senting petitions to Korean-American groups in the United States, including the Korean American Women’s Association- USA (KAWAUSA) and Korean-American groups in Oklahoma and Texas.

She has also sent petitions to several National Assembly committees asking that they get the Hague Abduction Convention passed,

Meeting with Yonhap, Kim asked that (the National Assembly, presumably) boost Korea’s international prestige as a nation of human rights by joining the Hague Abduction Convention and prevent a recurrence of this tragedy where a parent cannot get her child back just because she is Korean.

Marmot’s Note: Look at the map of Hague Abduction Convention signatories, and you’ll notice most of Asia isn’t party to it. In particular, Japan has earned notoriety for parental child abductions. Singapore entered into the convention this year, with the US State Department praising Singapore for “serving as a role model in the region.” Japan submitted legislation in March to join the convention, but much to some parents’ chagrin, it hasn’t gone anywhere since. Last year, US State Department Special Advisor for International Children’s Issues Susan Jacobs was in Seoul urging Korea to join the Hague Abduction Convention, arguing that it would be to Korea’s benefit with the growing number of international marriages in Korea.

Japan’s hesitance to join can best be explained—at least according to Wiki—to the way Japan’s legal system handled child custody issues:

The main impediment to Japan’s signing the convention is that it would require an overhaul of the Japanese legal system. Japanese family law considers issues of divorce custody, child support or alimony as predominantly private matters. Consequently, Japan has no enforcement mechanism to enforce foreign custody rulings or recommendations made by its own domestic courts. Furthermore, Japan does not recognise joint parental authority or shared “residence” after divorce. As a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, however, Japan is supposed to recognize the right of a child to obtain non-custodial parent visitation. However, the Supreme Court of Japan has recently ruled[when?] that this does not amount to the right of non-custodial parents to see their children (it has ruled that state-enforced visitation is the right of neither parent nor children). This ruling, in effect, makes visitation without the cooperation of the custody-holding parent a practical impossibility.

Japan has also argued, apparently, that the convention would not protect Japanese women from abusive foreign husbands:

Japan has argued that becoming a signatory of the convention may not protect Japanese women and their children from abusive non-Japanese husbands.[72] According to an editorial from the Asahi Shimbun, a significant number of parental abduction cases filed in North America and Europe involve Japanese wives,[73] and of those wives a number of them claim their husbands were abusive.

As for why Korea won’t join the convention, I suspect the reasons are similar to those of Japan. Most of the Korean-language articles I’ve read seem fairly positive about the convention, especially now, with international marriages on the rise and the spectre of spouses fleeing home with the kids growing. I also suspect the changing gender dynamics of international marriage in Korea might help boost enthusiasm for joining the convention, much in the way said dynamics helped boost understanding and sympathy for international marriage as a whole.