Why an American father of two walks endlessly on a treadmill in Seoul


At various locations in South Korea’s capital, John Sichi has walked miles on a treadmill in a desperate bid to draw attention to the abduction of his two young children, who he claims were taken from their home in San Francisco and brought to Seoul by their mother over three years ago.

Sichi has been organizing a one-man treadmill protest since October 2022, along with flyers and life-size posters of his children with the words “I miss my children so much” written in Korean.

For Sichi, who “walks but goes nowhere,” the endless tours symbolize his ongoing battle with South Korea’s legal system, which has failed to reunite him with his children.

The father of two also hopes to be able to communicate his situation with the public despite language barriers.

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This international child abduction The case started in November 2019.

At the time, Sichi lived with his wife and their two children in San Francisco. Due to marital problems, his wife is said to have flown to Seoul with their children in what was supposed to be a month-long “cooling off” visit with her family.

But according to Sichi, she and the children never returned.

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He said he visited Seoul in December 2019 and January 2020 to persuade his wife to come home with their children. She initially agreed to return, but by the end of February 2020 she had changed her mind, canceled her round-trip plane tickets and withheld her children’s passports, according to reports.

Sichi then decided to take his case to San Francisco County Superior Court, and after a months-long trial, the court finally ruled in August 2020 that the children should be returned to California. During the trial, Sichi had limited access to her children through video chat.

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Following his wife’s continued refusal to comply with US court orders, Sichi traveled to South Korea and in November 2020 went to the Seoul Family Court to file his case under The Hague Conventionan international treaty established to set standards for adoptions between countries, including cases of international child abduction.

Sichi was finally able to visit her children in 2021 after 10 months of video chatting, but these visits remained very limited and inconsistent.

In June of that year, the Seoul Family Court ruled that the children should be returned to their home in San Francisco. The Court of Appeal upheld this decision, and in February 2022, the Korean Supreme Court rejected Sichi’s wife’s latest appeal and ruled that the children should be returned immediately.

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Despite receiving court fines of 5 million won (about $3,840) and a 30-day custodial sentence, Sichi’s wife continued to defy court orders.

In May 2022, Sichi and a law enforcement officer visited his wife’s apartment and attempted to pick up their childrenbut they were ultimately unsuccessful when his son and daughter – now aged 6 and 4 – did not agree to leave, and the officer made no effort to enforce the court’s order.

Frustrated by the lack of action by law enforcement to carry out even the country’s highest court’s ruling, Sichi says he considers the situation “state-ordered child abuse.”

After speaking with child psychologists, Sichi is deeply troubled by the way officials reportedly continue to prioritize the decisions of his children, who are too young to understand the situation, over court orders.

He worries that putting the burden of making a final decision on his children will have a negative impact on them later in life, saying, “This is basically state child abuse.”

He says he is now working toward bringing in social workers to help with the process in hopes that they will be able to provide a less stressful environment for the children if they are eventually returned.

For a period following the May 2022 incident, Sichi was cut off from communication with his children and they, along with his wife, could not be located.

Fortunately for Sichi, after a local broadcasting station aired his story on one of their shows called “Curious Story Y,” a member of his wife’s extended family reached out to try to connect him with his children.

Although Sichi was unable to see his children in person, he was able to reestablish communication with them through phone calls.

Despite this “mini-breakthrough”, Sichi says he remains locked out of contact with his children as their conversations are very limited and the only words he hears are various repetitions of “no” in Korean.

In a recent update, Sichi shared that the US State Department and South Korea’s Ministry of Justice were finally able to confirm a new address for his wife and children.

All Sichi can do, however, is continue to work with the local justice system and hope that enough media attention will lead to a reunion with his children.

The father of two is not alone in the fight to get the children home.

He shares that he has connected with other American parents who are going through similar struggles to see their own abducted children.

One parent in particular, Jay Sung, has been an important source of strength and support during Sichi’s journey.

Sung, a Korean-American father from Washington, has not seen his 6-year-old son Bryan since 2019. His wife reportedly refused to return him despite receiving court orders, fines and custodial sentences.

Sichi and Sung talk daily, sharing resources and updates on their cases. Since Sung is able to speak Korean, Sichi has relied on him for help with translations and navigating the language barrier.

The two have also found greater support with iStand parent network, which focuses on bringing together parents going through similar situations around the world. The organization also hosts Camp Sumatanga, a camp held every summer in Alabama for survivors of child abduction cases.

Sichi intends to send her children to the survival camp one day: “I want to send them there so they can be with other children who have gone through similar experiences.”

Since gaining media coverage, he says one parent from Texas and one from Canada have taken up counseling as they are in the early stages of international child abduction.

“I’m able to advise them on what’s coming and some of the processes they have to go through,” he shares.

In the latest ruling by the Seoul Family Court, Sichi’s wife will now be fined 500,000 won (about $384) for each day of non-compliance.

The daily fines will start sometime next week.

According to Sichi, this is the first ruling of its kind, and he hopes that this extra pressure will take his case forward.

To raise awareness of his case and others like his to Korea’s National Assembly, Sichi needs 50,000 signatures on the petition by February 24.

So far, he has more than 7,700 signatures.

More information about his case and ways to help are available at his website.

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