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Pursuing “Real” Justice in International Child Abductions


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Responding to international pressure, the Japanese Diet recently voted to join “The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction,” an international agreement that provides a set response for local governments after a child has been abducted, most commonly by a parent.  Attempting to bridge disconnections between family law systems in different countries, the Convention dictates that all signatory nations agree to use local law enforcement to find and recover any child who has been abducted.  Before this Convention went into effect, Japan had been labeled a “black hole” for abducted children because children brought illegally into the country were unlikely to be recovered.  In the current moment, because the Convention does not apply retroactively, many hundreds of abduction cases remain open.  In this presentation, I focus on one element within the complex dynamics of international “high-conflict” divorces: the varying structures of belief parents hold about the process required to create “real” justice. A substantial gap exists between parents who are comfortable with legal informality and extra-judicial efforts – those willing to negotiate “outside” the law – and parents who believe real justice can only occur within courtrooms and legally formalized agreements. Based on my ethnographic work in the United States, Japan, and The Hague with parents of various nationalities, legal professionals, diplomats, politicians, and activists, I argue that personal and cultural definitions of “justice” reflect process as much as outcome, and continue to impact these highly politicized and deeply personal child abductions.

Event Date: 
Friday, 12 September 2014 - 1:00pm to 3:00pm
Speaker: 
Allison Alexy
Speaker Title: 
Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology University of Virginia