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Local Attorney in the Spotlight for Work in Children's Rights

By: Jena Maddalino

Date Posted: 2000-09-29

For local Attorney, Annette Eddie-Callahain, the pro-bono work that attorneys usually do in a limited capacity, has become a full-time mission. For more than a year she has been fighting for children's rights - helping moms in receiving much-needed support from dads that have moved back to the states.

A year ago, the project was still in its infancy when her office was designated as a DNA collection site to verify paternity through the help of a US company, Labcor. Now her clientele includes over 50 women from Okinawa and Japan, with numbers rising each week. And her work has also sparked national and international attention -- she was recently featured on an NHK special and will soon be featured on 60 Minutes.

Eddie-Callahain, a former JAG in the USAF, has been practicing law privately in Okinawa since April of 1995. Having been previously stationed in Okinawa, the plight of Okinawan mothers left behind by their military lovers had become an important issue for her.

"While I was stationed in Okinawa from 1990 to 1993, I realized there was a serious problem with these women who had children with military men," Eddie-Callahain told Japan Update in an Interview last year.

It was nearly impossible for women to collect child support, according to Eddie-Callahain, because Japan did not and still does not have an international agreement with the United States regarding such issues as child support or alimony. Most host countries have an agreement that honors the USIFSA, or United States' Uniform Interstate Family Support Act. This agreement works within the United States as well, where the judicial process is honored state to state.

Why Japan does not have an agreement with the United States is not a real mystery to Eddie-Callahain, who believes the problem to be a social problem, not a military problem.

"I think that Japan is reluctant to open a can of worms…Japan is trying to make this look like a military issue when it it's not." When Japan was approached several years ago by the NCSA to form an agreement, Japan said it was not interested, Eddie-Callahain said. She believes that the country is possibly moving in the right direction because lawmakers are now talking to the Chief Negotiator of the NCSA about an agreement with the US.

Until an agreement is made, she must continue to work through the National Child Support Association and the good will of the 50 states. Currently, 24 of the 50 states are cooperating with her efforts and she has been successful in helping most women collect child support.

"I have to go in the back door many times, contacting people I know in each state. But court dates are being set and our work has really taken off, " said Eddie-Callahain. "In a recent case a parent was ordered to pay $75,000 in back child support even though the child is now 18."

She has also handled cases in which her clients have been abused by their spouses in the states and are forced to return to Okinawa for safety. "Some of my cases involve neglect and abuse as well as child-support issues."

Some of her clients are traumatized and come back to a community where they sometimes aren't accepted because of cultural dynamics. Unfortunately, many are still not accepting of inter-cultural marriages said Eddie Callahain. Luckily, she has found help for these women as well, through a womens center located in Naha. The center offers counseling, Job Training, food, clothing and both long and short term shelter.

Some of her cases do involve local child-support issues as well. Many of which include a willing father, who not only wants to contribute money, but also wants to play an active role in the child's/children's life.

"I have met a lot of fathers who are truly interested in seeing their child. Many times, dads get lost in the shuffle and are labeled "dead beat" when they shouldn't be. I tell parents here that it is a package deal - if a father is willing to pay support, he should have the right to see his child, " Eddie-Callahain told Japan Update.

Even though she is looking forward to her interview with 60 Minutes, she wants to make sure that people don't target the military as the only source of blame. "I am not pointing my finger at the military because the military can only do so much. The military can't force its members to pay child support."

The best hope for children lost in the world between the US and Okinawa is for Japan to sign an agreement with the US. Of course, Eddie-Callahain's pioneering work will continue in lieu of an agreement, as she works to get all 50 states to work with her.

Annette Eddie-Callagain is in need of volunteers to help type important documents for child support cases. Her office is located in Ginowan City, across from Camp Foster. For more information call 898-0162.

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