Ten left-behind parents awarded financial grants totaling $25,000


The Bring Sean Home Foundation (BSHF) today awarded financial grants totaling $25,000 to ten left-behind parents whose children are victims of international parental child abduction. The grants were made possible by donations received by BSHF from individuals, businesses and charities across the nation.

As we commemorate International Missing Children’s Day (May 25), BSHF is pleased to be in the position to support victims of international parental child abduction and to distribute funds to left-behind parents who are often financially devastated by the abduction of their children. Government resources to financially assist left-behind families are extremely limited. Left-behind parents are forced to fight expensive legal battles on their own, at home and in the foreign country where their children were taken. The purpose of these grants is to help defray legal and travel-related expenses directly associated with a parent’s efforts to repatriate or visit their abducted children.

BSHF’s 2013 grant recipients all reside in the United States with children abducted to both Hague Convention and non-Hague countries including Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Japan, Egypt, Turkey, and the Dominican Republic.

“Financial assistance is the number one need for parents whose children have been abducted abroad,” said David Goldman, BSHF Director and Co-founder. “Parents whose children have been internationally abducted face overwhelming obstacles because of efforts by the abductors to break them, both emotionally and financially.”

Mark DeAngelis, BSHF Executive Director and Co-founder, said, “It is not uncommon for left-behind parents to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting for the rightful return of their abducted children. It is our hope that these grants, while only a fraction of the overall expenses incurred, will help to ease some of the tremendous financial burden felt by these parents.”

According to the U.S. State Department, more than 7,000 American children have been abducted from the United States in the last five years, with a reported return rate of less than 40 percent.

The Bring Sean Home Foundation is a registered 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. To donate to BSHF and help continue the grant program for other left-behind parents, please visit our website at www.BringSeanHome.org. Your support is greatly appreciated.



On Thursday, May 9, David Goldman traveled to Washington, DC, to testify before the U.S. Congressional Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations. The topic of the hearing, the fourth at which Goldman has testified, was “Resolving International Parental Child Abductions to Non-Hague Convention Countries.” The press release below, from the office of Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey, summarizes the day’s events.

PICTURED: David Goldman discusses open international parental child abduction cases with Ambassador Susan Jacobs, Special Advisor to the Secretary for Children’s Issues, and other Office of Children's Issues staff members.

For more updates and to view additional photos from the event, be sure to follow us on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/BringSeanHome).


Press Release of U.S. Congressman Chris Smith


Contact Jeff Sagnip 202-225-3765


The Heartbreak of Int’l Child Abductions of American Children


‘Left-Behind’ parents, State Dept. testify before Congress; Focus on lack of effective U.S. child abduction policy, need for new strategies to bring U.S. kids home



“The damage to the child and the left behind parent is incalculable and too often life-long,” said Smith. “The children especially are at risk of serious emotional and psychological problems and may experience anxiety, eating problems, nightmares, mood swings, sleep disturbances, aggressive behavior, resentment, guilt and fearfulness. These victims are American citizens who need the help of their government when normal legal processes are unavailable or fail.” Click here to read Chairman Smith’s full statement.

International parental child abduction occurs when one parent unlawfully moves a child from his or her country of residence, often for the purpose of denying the other parent access to the child.

Testifying before the subcommittee were Iraqi War veteran Marine Sgt. Mike Elias, David Goldman, who is one of the few Americans to retrieve their child after an international abduction to Brazil, and other “left behind” parents of American children abducted to India, Japan, Egypt and Brazil (just a few of the thousands of U.S. children held wrongfully overseas). Ambassador Susan Jacobs, Special Advisor for Children’s Issues, Bureau of Consular Affairs at the U.S. State Department also spoke at the hearing entitled “Resolving International Parental Child Abductions to Non-Hague Convention Countries” held before the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations chaired by Smith.

“I cannot think of anything more important than the fate of our children,” an emotional Elias told the congressional panel. “What about all the American citizens who have been ripped from their homes in this country against their will. What about MY children? I don’t know how to pick up the pieces and move on. My ‘pieces’ are in Japan! A country that has knowingly aided and abetted the abduction of children from all over the world. A country that refused to prosecute my wife for crimes that are recognized worldwide as fundamental human rights violations.”

Also testifying were Patricia Apy, attorney specializing in international abduction cases, Paras, Apy & Reiss, P.C., and Colin Bower, of Boston, Mass., father of children abducted to Egypt. (Click here to read their and all the testimonies or watch a video of the hearing.)

“I must be reunited with my children and I need the help of our honorable Congress to do so,” said a determined Bindu Phillips, of Plainsboro, N.J., mother of two children abducted to India. “The stress under which I have labored the last 4 years has been almost unbearable at times, but I have continued on in the sole hope of being reunited with my children—from whom I never spent a day apart from prior to their father’s kidnapping of them in December of 2008 in India. I have put everything I have into my mission to be reunited with my children.”

In 1983, the United States ratified the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction to try to address parental abductions via a civil framework that provided for the quick return of abducted children, and access rights to both parents. Under the convention a child is supposed to be returned within six weeks to their country for the courts there to determine custody, however most are not returned and most cases drag on for years. Even in countries where the Convention is said to be enforced, only about 40 percent of children are returned.

Ambassador Jacobs said Secretary John Kerry—who is closely familiar with the Bowen case—demonstrated his concern regarding international parental child abduction by extending my tenure as the Bureau of Consular Affairs’ Special Advisor for Children’s Issues to ensure high-level attention stays focused on this important topic.

“Secretary Kerry, one of the leading advocates for combating international parental child abduction during his time in the U.S. Senate, has now brought his passion and foreign affairs experience to bear as our Secretary,” Jacobs said, also promising to explore all avenues, including memorandums of understanding to have a established governmental framework to address abductions and bring U.S. children home.

Goldman told the subcommittee that what left behind parents often fail to realize is that it is not incompetence or ignorance that leads to the mishandling of abduction cases, but rather a failure to enforce policy. He cited lack of progress by the State Department in addressing child abductions.

“What is required at the State Department is a complete culture change,” Goldman said. “Nothing short of being extremely bold and principled is going to do much to change the status quo and the corresponding playbook for handling international child abduction cases. Left-behind parents, especially ones whose children have been abducted more recently, often make the mistake of thinking that the State Department is competently handling their cases and that countries routinely return children as expected.”



Press Release of U.S. Congressman Chris Smith





Press Release of U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer


Contact Washington D.C. Office (202) 224-3553


Boxer, Lautenberg, Kerry, Lugar, Inhofe Join Colleagues to Introduce Resolution Condemning International Parental Child Abduction


Bipartisan Resolution Calls on Countries to Do More to Prevent and Resolve Cases of Children Abducted by Parents Across International Borders


WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) today joined Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), John Kerry (D-MA), Richard Lugar (R-IN), James Inhofe (R-OK) and 10 colleagues to introduce a bipartisan resolution condemning the unlawful international abduction of all children. The resolution also calls on the United States and the international community to take additional steps to resolve current and future abduction cases.

Tragically, international parental child abduction continues to be a common occurrence. According to the U.S. Department of State, last year 1,367 American children were reported abducted by a parent from the United States to a foreign country.

The 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is the principal tool for a parent seeking the return of a child abducted across international borders. The Convention provides a legal framework for securing the return of an abducted child so that judicial authorities can make decisions on issues of custody and the best interests of the child. However, many countries do not participate in the Hague Abduction Convention and the Convention does not apply to abductions that occur before a country joins.

The resolution calls on all countries to join and fully comply with the Hague Abduction Convention and to take other steps to prevent and resolve cases of international parental child abduction. The resolution also expresses the Sense of the Senate that the United States should “aggressively pursue the return of each child abducted by a parent from the United States to another country through all appropriate means, consistent with the Hague Abduction Convention, and through extradition, when appropriate, and facilitate access by the left-behind parent if the child is not returned.”

“These abductions are devastating for the parent who is left behind and are extremely harmful to the children involved,” Senator Boxer said. “I have met parents who have not seen or heard from their children in years, and this is simply unacceptable. The international community must be united in its condemnation of child abduction and in its commitment to resolve custody disputes by rule of law.”

“International child abduction is a tragic situation that impacts not only the parents who are left behind but also the children who have been illegally separated from them and denied any contact,” Senator Lugar said. “Bringing greater attention to this issue is important if we are to change other governments’ attitudes to these abductions.”

“Conservatives and liberals rarely agree, but on the issue of these child abductions, we see eye to eye,” Senator Inhofe said. “Unfortunately, some countries around the world are complicit in allowing these unacceptable acts. The heart wrenching stories I have heard from parents is not just devastating for them, but destructive for the children. It is time for the Senate to act in a way that will help end this injustice. This well written measure is a high priority. I encourage my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join in this effort.”

“International child abductions aren’t faceless crimes, they’re real and they’re tragic,” Senator Kerry said. “Over the last two years, I’ve gotten to know Colin Bower, a Massachusetts father who had full legal custody of his two young sons and whose life was ripped apart when they were abducted and taken to Egypt. We’re still fighting and working to get his boys home and reunite them with their dad. If you know Colin, you know it’s almost a cliche to say that this is any parent’s worst nightmare and a tragic, all-too-real reminder of why the United States must condemn international abductions and work to resolve them. The international community must stand up and do all it can to make this right.”

“We saw firsthand the devastation that international child abductions cause for parents and children when New Jersey resident David Goldman had to fight for years to be reunited with his son Sean. We need to gain the support of countries around the world in condemning this practice and agreeing to cooperate in the return of abducted children. This resolution will help us prevent these tragedies in the future,” said Lautenberg, who was instrumental in helping the return of Sean Goldman from Brazil to his father in the United States.

In November 2009, Senator Boxer and 21 colleagues wrote to President Obama urging him to address international parental child abduction with Japanese leaders during a trip to the country. Japan remains the only G-7 industrialized nation that has yet to ratify the Hague Abduction Convention.

The resolution introduced today will help continue to raise the profile of this important issue in the United States and across the globe. Additional cosponsors of the resolution currently include Senators Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Patty Murray (D-WA). The full text of the resolution is below.





To express the sense of the Senate on international parental child abduction.

Whereas international parental child abduction is a tragic and common occurrence;

Whereas the abduction of a child by one parent is a heartbreaking loss for the left-behind parent and deprives the child of a relationship with 2 loving parents;

Whereas, according to the Report on Compliance with the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction of the United States Department of State from April 2010, research shows that abducted children are at risk of significant short- and long-term problems, including “anxiety, eating problems, nightmares, mood swings, sleep disturbances, [and] aggressive behavior”;

Whereas, according to that report, left-behind parents may also experience substantial psychological and emotional issues, including feelings of “betrayal, sadness over the loss of their children or the end of their marriage, anger toward the other parent, anxiety, sleeplessness, and severe depression”, as well as financial strain while fighting for the return of a child;

Whereas, since 1988, the United States, which has a treaty relationship under the Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, done at The Hague October 25, 1980 (TIAS 11670) (referred to in this preamble as the “Hague Abduction Convention”) with 69 other countries, has agreed with its treaty partners to follow the terms of the Hague Abduction Convention;

Whereas the Hague Abduction Convention provides a legal framework for securing the prompt return of wrongfully removed or retained children to the countries of their habitual residence where competent courts can make decisions on issues of custody and the best interests of the children;

Whereas, according to the United States Department of State, the number of new cases of international child abduction from the United States increased from 579 in 2006 to 941 in 2011;

Whereas, in 2011, those 941 cases involved 1,367 children who were reported abducted from the United States by a parent and taken to a foreign country;

Whereas, in 2011, more than 660 children who were abducted from the United States and taken to a foreign country were returned to the United States;

Whereas 7 of the top 10 countries to which children from the United States were most frequently abducted in 2011 are parties to the Hague Abduction Convention, including Mexico, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Ecuador, Brazil, and Colombia;

Whereas Japan, India, and Egypt are not parties to the Hague Abduction Convention and were also among the top 10 countries to which children in the United States were most frequently abducted in 2011;

Whereas, in many countries, such as Japan and India, international parental child abduction is not considered a crime, and custody rulings made by courts in the United States are not typically recognized by courts in those countries; and

Whereas Japan is the only member of the Group of 7 major industrialized countries that has not ratified the Hague Abduction Convention: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That—

(1) the Senate—

(A) condemns the unlawful international abduction of all children;

(B) urges countries identified by the United States Department of State as noncompliant or demonstrating patterns of noncompliance with the Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, done at The Hague October 25, 1980 (TIAS 11670) (referred to in this resolution as the “Hague Abduction Convention”) to fulfill their commitment under international law to expeditiously implement the provisions of the Hague Abduction Convention;

(C) calls on all countries to accede to or ratify the Hague Abduction Convention and to promptly institute measures to equitably and transparently address cases of international parental child abduction; and

(D) calls on all countries that have not acceded to or ratified the Hague Abduction Convention to develop a mechanism for the resolution of current and future cases of international parental child abduction that occur before those countries accede to or ratify the Hague Abduction Convention in order to facilitate the prompt return of children abducted to those countries to the children’s countries of habitual residence; and

(2) it is the sense of the Senate that the United States should—

(A) aggressively pursue the return of each child abducted by a parent from the United States to another country through all appropriate means, consistent with the Hague Abduction Convention, and through extradition, when appropriate, and facilitate access by the left-behind parent if the child is not returned;

(B) take all appropriate measures to ensure that a child abducted to a country that is a party to the Hague Abduction Convention is returned to the country of habitual residence of the child in compliance with the provisions of the Hague Abduction Convention;

(C) continue to use diplomacy to encourage other countries to accede to or ratify the Hague Abduction Convention and to take the necessary steps to effectively fulfill their responsibilities under the Hague Abduction Convention;

(D) use diplomacy to encourage countries that have not acceded to or ratified the Hague Abduction Convention to develop an institutionalized mechanism to transparently and expeditiously resolve current and future cases of international child abduction that occur before those countries accede to or ratify the Hague Abduction Convention; and

(E) review the advisory services made available to United States citizens by the United States Department of State, the United States Department of Justice, and other United States Government agencies—

(i) to improve the prevention of international parental child abduction from the United States; and

(ii) to ensure that effective and timely assistance is provided to United States citizens who are parents of children abducted from the United States and taken to foreign countries.


Press Release of U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer



Press Release of U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg



GovTrack.Us: S.Res.543



Sean & David Goldman Act, introduced by Rep. Chris Smith, passes House subcommittee


April 27, 2012
Greater Media Newspapers
Staff Writer

There wasn’t a dry eye in the room after the 15-minute video chronicled David Goldman’s five-year struggle to get his son Sean back in his arms after a tumultuous and highly publicized international child-abduction case.

Goldman shared his story with about 50 people on March 29 at Chelsea Senior Living in Tinton Falls, the same place that displayed “Welcome Home Sean” on an outdoor sign when the then-9-year-old returned to his father on Dec. 24, 2009.

“[It’s an opportunity] to strike while the iron is hot, to keep the light shining on the issue, absolutely,” said Goldman, whose struggle to regain custody of his son ended when Brazil’s Supreme Federal Court ruled against Sean’s Brazilian relatives and ordered that he be reunited with his father.

“We realized there are many thousands of other children and families in similar, not exact — because every case is a little different — but similar situations as mine and Sean’s. It’s just incredible that it continues and it’s getting worse,” Goldman said.

During the struggle to regain custody of his son, Goldman and a few friends founded BringSeanHome.org, a website that helps the thousands of families that are dealing with international child abductions.

According to the U.S. State Department, more than 3,200 new international parental child-abduction cases, involving more than 4,700 children, were reported between October 2008 and December 2010.

“I know what it’s like and my family knows what it’s like. Not only does it crush the parent, not only was I emotionally, mentally, physically, financially devastated, my family was,” said Goldman, who spent upward of $700,000 and went on 16 last-minute trips to appear before Brazilian courts.

“We need to help them [families]. Their voices, as mine did for so long, seem to just be falling on deaf ears, and if we can be the one voice, if we can be that voice to help them, we will do whatever we can to help them.”

Just two days prior to Goldman’s speaking at the Chelsea, the House Congressional Human Rights Subcommittee unanimously passed bill H.R. 1940, which was named the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction, Prevention and Return Act.

The bill is designed to empower the U.S. State Department with more tools necessary to bring home children who have been abducted from the country, as well as to enforce the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International ChildAbduction.

The convention establishes the legal framework between the United States and 68 partnering countries, including Brazil, for recovering children wrongfully removed from their habitual residence and detained in another country. “Too many families have been waiting too long for the return of their children. Our current system with its endless delays and lack of proper accountability has failed too many. It is time for an approach that backs our demands with penalties and makes very clear to foes and friends alike that our children are our top priority,” said Rep. Chris Smith (R- 4th District), chairman of the subcommittee, in a March 27 press release.

Smith, who was the lead advocate in Goldman’s fight to bring Sean home, said that the bill “will put teeth into the U.S. government efforts to reclaim abducted American children.”

Goldman applauded Smith’s efforts, calling them the first of many steps that need to be taken to properly address the growing issue of international parental child abduction.

“We cannot keep allowing these countries to hold our American children, violating all laws, moral law even, without holding them accountable. More often than not, if they see what’s coming down the pike, they’ll return the children if they know they’re not going to be issued the number of visas they want, or we’re not going to be funding joint scientific projects, or we’re not going to give them tons of aid,” he said.

The website BringSeanHome.org now serves as a go-to place that provides information, resources, and may soon provide financial assistance through a grant program, for families suffering a similar fate.

Mark DeAngelis, one of the five volunteer directors of the Bring Sean Home Foundation, said there’s a very tough job ahead for the organization, which raises awareness about international child abduction and aims to prevent future abductions.

“[A]s David knows, [parents’] heads are spinning, their worlds have been turned upside down, and yet they believe that there’s an advocate in their government to help them with these children. Sadly, it really could not be further from the truth,” DeAngelis told the crowd.

“You end up caught in this bureaucratic maze of the State Department where you realize there is no advocacy. The word advocacy does not exist; you are basically just a statistic on paper.”

According to DeAngelis, the typical procedure involves nothing more than the processing of the case, which ensures a day in court in the foreign country where the child has been taken.

“The sad part is the department within our government that is responsible for working with these cases and trying to bring these children home is completely ineffective. They’re nice people, they’re caring people, they want to help, they just don’t have the ability to do so, they don’t have the tools they need to do so, and that’s part of the reason we need this legislation” said DeAngelis.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us. This is not an easy issue to advocate for. Things happen very slowly down in Washington, and legislation takes years to make its way through.”

Because Sean’s and David’s names have been attached to the bill, Goldman hopes it will gain recognition among people who have heard of their case.

“Someone sees the title of that piece of legislation and they get it, and they know how painful it is and how long and how arduous the battle is and how wrong it is,” he said.

“The whole entire thing was just a searing, burning pain right through me that never would go away.”

Looking back, Goldman said not once did he ever think about giving up on his son, despite facing overwhelming and heartbreaking odds of getting him back.

“Knowing that everything was black and white, that he should be home according to any law, and to have to fight and miss so much of— I missed his birthdays, I missed his first tooth falling out, some of his first words and going to school on the school bus. I missed every day just waking up and fixing him breakfast,” he said.

But now his son is 11 years old, and Goldman was able to help him get ready for his first Little League baseball scrimmage that evening. Sean will be turning 12 on May 25, which coincidentally, is the day that was declared as National Missing Children’s Day by President Ronald Reagan in 1983.

For more information about the Bring Sean Home Foundation, visit www.BringSeanHome.org. The organization will be having a golf-outing fundraiser at the Pine Barrens Golf Club in Jackson on June 25.


On Tuesday, March 27, David Goldman and a group of volunteers from the Bring Sean Home Foundation (BSHF) traveled to Washington DC for the day to lend support to a piece of legislation aimed at preventing international child abduction and providing for tough measures against countries which fail to meet their international human rights obligations to return abducted American children. The press release below from the office of Congressman Chris Smith of New Jersey summarizes the day’s events. There is now a meaningful and realistic chance that this bill becomes law one day. Thank you to everyone for all of your support along the way. We still have a ways to go, but the significance of yesterday’s accomplishment is worth celebrating.

BACK ROW: Matt DeAngelis (Director, BSHF), Mark DeAngelis (Executive Director, BSHF), Congressman Chris Smith, David Goldman (Co-Founder, BSHF) FRONT ROW: Missy Capestro (Director, BSHF), Bernie Aronson (Former Assistant Secretary of State, Western Hemisphere) — in Washington, District of Columbia.

You can also follow the Bring Sean Home Foundation on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/BringSeanHome) and view photos from the event.

Bill to Help Bring U.S. Kids Home Approved by Panel

WASHINGTON, March 27 – With David Goldman and other left behind parents from around the country at a congressional mark-up Tuesday, a bill designed to empower the U.S. State Department with more tools to achieve the return of children abducted from the U.S. and to enforce the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction was approved by Members of the House panel that oversees human rights.

Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04), chairman of the House congressional human rights subcommittee, saw his bill, H.R. 1940, now named the “Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction, Prevention and Return Act” lauded by the panel members as a way to help bring thousands of American children who are victims of international parental child abduction, back home. According to the U.S. State Department, over 3,200 new international parental child abduction cases involving over 4,700 children were reported from October 2008 to December 2010.

“Parental child abduction is child abuse,” Smith said. “Too many families have been waiting too long for the return of their children. Our current system with its endless delays and lack of proper accountability has failed too many. It is time for an approach that backs our demands with penalties and makes very clear to foes and friends alike that our children are our top priority.” Click here to read Chairman Smith’s opening remarks, which spell out 17 presidential actions the bill provides to help recover U.S. children.

Smith said the bill, approved by unanimous consent, “will put teeth into U.S. government efforts to reclaim abducted American children by giving the President important tools that motivate other countries to more quickly respond to efforts to return an abducted child.”

At the mark-up were left behind parents and family members, including Goldman of Monmouth County, N.J., father of Sean Goldman who was abducted to Brazil. Goldman was engaged in a widely-publicized, grueling, five-year battle to see his son again and bring him home on Dec. 24, 2009. Unfortunately many ‘left-behind’ parents, unlike Goldman, have never seen their children again after the abduction.

Left behind parents Chris Savoie, Paul Toland and Douglas Berg all offered their personal painful experiences at the proceeding, as did a left-behind grandparent of two New Jersey abducted children, Nancy Elias. All spoke with reporters prior to the mark-up. Seated next to Goldman and the other left behind parents at the hearing was NBC Dateline journalist Meredith Vieira, who helped bring critical attention to Goldman’s case.

“H.R. 1940 as amended is also for the left behind parents and bereaved children who have been taken to countries that are not party to the Hague Abduction Convention,” Smith said. “Parents like Michael Elias, a combat-injured Iraqi veteran from New Jersey, whose ex-wife used her Japanese consulate connections to abduct little Jade and Michael Jr., after the New Jersey court had ordered surrender of passports and joint custody.

Smith said H.R. 1940 directs the President to take measured, effective, and predictable actions to aggressively advocate for our children’s return. Such actions range from denial of certain assistance to prohibiting the procurement of certain goods or services from the government or instrumentality responsible for the pattern of noncooperation.

“I hope that it will not be necessary to use the penalties provided in this bill,” Smith said. “In the best case scenario, just the possibility of adverse consequences will motivate the resolution of current open cases of international child abduction, and prevent additional cases from happening in the first place. If parents have no place to hide, they are less likely to run with the children.

All of the subcommittee Members attended the mark-up and all supported Smith’s legislation. Speaking in strong favor of passage were Ranking Democrat Rep. Karen Bass (CA-33), Vice Chairman Jeff Fortenberry (NE-01), Tom Marino (PA-10), Ann Marie Buerkle (NY-25) and Robert Turner (NY-09).

“We must act quickly and decisively to raise international awareness of the gravity of parental child abduction and galvanize the will of the international community to stop it,” Smith said. “This Subcommittee’s approval of this bill is a first step to achieving these goals.”


New Westminster man’s daughters abducted to radioactive Fukushima, Japan


By Brent Richter, New West Record June 27, 2011

It’s been 22 months since Bruce Gherbetti has seen his three children and it would be hard to pick a worse place for them to be: Fukushima, Japan.

The New Westminster man says his is a classic case of international child abduction but with the last known whereabouts of his daughters Rion, Lauren and Julia being about 45 kilometres from the disabled and still deadly nuclear reactor damaged in the March earthquake and tsunami, Gherbetti doesn’t just miss his children, he lives in constant anxiety over their safety.

Making the situation worse is the fact that in the world of international child abduction, Japan is referred to as a “black hole,” meaning once children go in, they never come out. According to the United States Department of State, of the approximately 400 cases of abduction to Japan since 2000, “no child has been returned to his/her country of habitual residence as a result of any action taken by the government of Japan.”

Gherbetti met his wife, Taiko Suzuki, in 2001 when she was visiting Canada on a student visa to study English. The two began dating but neither had plans to continue their relationship after Suzuki returned to Japan.

Then, Suzuki contacted Gherbetti in late 2002 to tell him that she was pregnant with the couple’s first child, Rion (Suzuki), who was born in Iwaki, Japan in May of 2003.

“Ultimately I decided at that time that I wanted to be with Taiko and raise our child and be a family and make a go of the traditional husband and father role,” Gherbetti said.

Suzuki and Rion moved back to B.C. and Gherbetti and Suzuki married in February 2004. Over the next two years the couple had daughters Lauren, born January 2005, and Julia, born April 2007, both at Royal Columbian Hospital.

During the economic turmoil of the spring of 2009, Gherbetti was laid off from his sales manager position at Sears in Vancouver and the marriage became strained. Gherbetti said Suzuki was depressed and struggling with the separation from her culture and family. Gherbetti said he offered to move the family to Japan but Suzuki dismissed the idea, saying he wouldn’t earn enough to support the family.

In September 2009, Gherbetti was blindsided by an accusation that landed him in jail.

“She went to the New West Police and leveled a charge that I had assaulted her and threatened to kill her. Completely fabricated,” he said. “Unfortunately, the way our system is set up, if you are accused of domestic violence, you are thrown in jail.”

Gherbetti, still in shock, spent six weeks at North Fraser Pretrial Centre, where he was alone and exposed to violence while awaiting his trial.

“(I was) with murderers, rapists, drug dealers; you name it. The very worst of the worst. I’ll admit, I was frightened and cold. I saw man get stabbed in the face,” he said.

Two days before his trial, he was called to court and learned Crown counsel was willing to offer him a deal – no more time in jail in exchange for a guilty plea.

“I was dragged to the New West court two days prior to my trial date, with no notice, very little to eat, not enough to wear, freezing my butt off in the sheriff’s cell, two blocks from my apartment and they were saying, ‘Just plead guilty and we’ll let you go home.’”

Despite maintaining his innocence to himself and his court appointed-lawyer, Gherbetti took the deal.

“I was under duress. Of course, I would have said anything to get out of that prison to go home,” he said.

After literally running home, the reality of what had happened set in for Gherbetti. He found the house “cleaned and scoured” of everything belonging to Suzuki and the children.

“Not a photo, not a drawing, nothing. Not a remnant left of my children,” he said,

He said his voicemail had 17 messages from Crown counsel attempting to get in touch with Suzuki, indicating she had already left the country.

He did find though, tucked under a chair, a drawing Rion had done and hid for him while he was in jail.

“It’s a drawing she made that says, ‘Free the rainbows’ and it’s a bunch of rainbows in the middle of a prison cell,” he said breaking into tears. “She knew what was going on. She knew what was going to happen to her.”

Gherbetti has only spoken with Suzuki once since they returned to Japan. The next time he called, the number had been disconnected.

“She indicated she wasn’t going to let me speak to the children nor ever see them again. It was her intention to ‘erase Canada from their memories,’ quote,” he said.

Hindsight being 20/20, Gherbetti said he should have known what was coming.

“What she wanted was to go back there with the children, without me, which is ultimately what she manufactured,” he said. “She didn’t want to be married to me anymore, which is alright. These things happen, but to abduct the children in the manner that she did, and to lie to the police… I’ve been crushed by this whole experience.”

Since then Gherbetti has become depressed and been treated for post-traumatic stress disorder, which he said was helpful, but he’s run out of cash to continue paying for counselling. While looking for work, he has also taken to the Internet where there is a support network for mothers and fathers of abducted children. With them, he has found some badly needed support but more is always welcome, he said.

Then came the “triple tragedy” on March 11. Gherbetti was at home watching TV when news broke that a massive earthquake and tsunami had struck the coast of Japan.

“I saw it live. The next 18 hours were really the worst,” he said, struggling to hold back tears.

Gherbetti played the only card left in his hand to learn about his daughters’ fate.

“I had a phone number for my wife’s brother, which I saved and had not used because I did not want it to get disconnected. I had my brother phone her brother and he was able to tell us that they survived the tsunami and the earthquake. In his words, they were ‘fine’. That’s all he would say,” Gherbetti said.

Suzuki’s family home in Iwaki is just 500 metres from where the tsunami’s devastation stopped. An elevated highway slowed the waves from reaching Rion, Lauren and Julia.

But within days of the earthquake, it was learned that the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was heavily damaged and leaking radiation several times higher than what is safe for humans. And as the weeks and months have rolled on, the news about the radiation leak has become worse, not better. In April, the International Atomic Energy Agency had rated the disaster at Fukushima as a seven, the same as Chernobyl. By June, it was revealed that all three reactors at the plant were in meltdown and there was no plan in place to deal with the hundreds of thousands of tonnes of radioactive water being pumped in to cool the reactors. The Canadian government’s official position on Fukushima is that all Canadians should stay at least 80 kilometres away from the nuclear plant.

Gherbetti contacted Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, which was able contact Suzuki’s brother to offer evacuation for the girls and Suzuki’s family, but so far, the family has not responded.

“What my contact there tells me is, ‘We can offer assistance but that’s it. That’s all we can do.’ If they choose not to accept, there’s nothing they can do for me,” he said. “The last thing foreign affairs did for me is send Taiko a registered letter requesting information about the children’s well-being and photographs.”

Today, Gherbetti cannot even be sure if Suzuki’s family is still in Iwaki but he suspects they are. That uncertainty, he said, makes matters worse.

Gherbetti has since taken to social media to raise the issues of international child abduction and the growing radiation crisis, and to post messages calling for an evacuation of all children and young mothers from Fukushima prefecture.

Gherbetti, like most other “left behind” parents, now does what he can, which isn’t much. The one hope he has of seeing his children, short of hiring a recovery agent to “re-kidnap” and transport them back to Canada, is the faint hope of gaining access to them under the Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, article 21, which states parents of children taken across boarders without permission, must have access to their children.

The trouble is, Japan is the only industrialized country that has refused to sign the convention.

But that chance, albeit slim, remains. The government of Japan announced in June that it would begin a legislative process this fall to sign the convention.

William Storey, a family lawyer and international child abduction expert who Gherbetti retained in 2010, said Japan is one of the toughest countries to deal with.

“I’ve had several cases over the years of children being taken to Japan and it can be an extremely difficult situation,” he said.

Storey said Japan’s announcement regarding the Hague Convention sounds good, but it is far too soon to say if will help any mothers or fathers outside Japan to see their children again.

“In theory, it should change the playing field a lot. Whether it will in practice or not, is another matter,” Storey said. “It’s one thing to sign the treaty and it’s something else to put the legislation in place and to put the judicial authorities and the bureaucracy in place to have the treaty enforced in a practical way.”

Despite Japan’s announcement, Gherbetti remains skeptical. Should Japan sign the convention, Gherbetti will need to go through a family court process in Japan just to see his daughters and given his previous experience and witnessing the Japanese government’s response to the Fukushima disaster, he has little faith. Because the abduction pre-dates any signing of the convention, Gherbetti will not be able to use the convention to bring the girls back to Canada.

Gherbetti has requested help from the Prime Minister’s Office as well as former and current foreign affairs ministers Laurence Cannon and John Baird but only received form letters in response.

Nevertheless, Gherbetti said he’ll pursue any chance he gets to be reunited with Rion, Lauren and Julia.

“I’m fighting this fight on my own and I’m prepared to just continue because I’ll never stop fighting for them,” he said.


  Individual Abduction Case Updates

Several left-behind parents have shared recent updates to their cases — some of them encouraging, some of them disappointing, all deserving of your attention and in need of your support.

When reading the below case updates, please keep in mind the following:

  • These are not custody issues. These cases are abductions under The Hague Convention. It is clear under the terms and spirit of the Convention that the home state of competent jurisdiction determines ALL custodial issues.
  • Bringing an abducted child home does not separate the child from the abducting parent. It is the abducting parent’s choice to live wherever he or she chooses, but again, “The competent court of jurisdiction” meaning the Home State of the child prior to the abduction, which is the habitual residence of the child and under the law, determine ALL custodial issues.
  • To highlight Brazil: It’s unacceptable for a country to return an abducted child only when the abducting parent is deceased. The most recent decisions in the Birotte and Weinstein cases exemplify the systemic problem with Brazil and many non-complying countries; and do not go into other likely underlying factors such as nationalism and gender bias when the abductor is a mother. The initial ruling in the Birotte case, though much too long in the coming, was encouraging as it demonstrated that some judges in Brazil do understand the treaty law; however, as shown by Minister Andrighi’s ruling, there are still high level judges that either do not yet understand or refuse to comply with the treaty law.


BIROTTE (US)Brazil continued to demonstrate ongoing non-compliance for the Hague Convention on Thursday, April 29, when Minister Nancy Andrighi of the Superior Court of Justice (STJ) ruled that Kelvin Birotte, Jr. would stay with his mother, Hilma Caldeira, a former Brazilian Olympian, in Brazil until a final ruling is made on a yet-to-be-filed appeal to the April 14 ruling by the 19th district court in Bellarizante, Brazil, that the boy was to be returned to his father, Kelvin Birotte, Sr., in the United States. Kelvin Sr. was notified of the ruling on Monday, April 19, but before he even boarded the plane to Brazil, he was informed that Interpol was not able to locate Hilma or Kelvin Jr., who has been illegally retained in Brazil since July 2006.


  • Congressman John Culberson – Phone: (202) 225-2571, Fax: (202) 225-4381
  • Congressman Al Green – Phone: (202) 225-7508, Fax: (202) 225-2947
  • Senator John Cornyn – Phone: (202) 224-2934, Fax: (202) 228-2856
  • Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison – Phone: (202) 224-5922, Fax: (202) 224-0776

WEINSTEIN (US) After waiting nearly two years for a ruling on his Hague case, in late February a first-level federal judge ruled against Timothy Weinstein. Like so many other Brazilian judges, the judge in this case demonstrated little understanding of the Hague Convention and proceeded to treat Timothy’s case like a domestic custody battle. In March, Brazil’s Attorney General (AGO) filed an appeal to the first-level ruling and seeking the immediate return of Timothy’s son, Paul, and daughter, Anna, to the United States. Timothy has been fighting for their return since the summer of 2006.


  • Congressman Jason Altmire – Phone: (202) 225-2565, Fax: (202) 226-2274
  • Senator Robert Casey – Phone: (202) 224-6324, Fax: (202) 228-0604
  • Senator Arlen Specter – Phone: (202) 224-4254, Fax: (202) 228-1229


ATHUKORALA (US) In April 2009, then 20-month-old Kali Soleil Athukorala was abducted to the Dominican Republic (DR) by her mother, Sandra Zemialkowski. The DR became a signatory to the Hague Convention in June 2007. In Hague cases, the role of a country’s Central Authority is to represent the child in defense of the child’s right to return to the country of habitual residence. However, the DR’s Central Authority, having been approached by Kali’s mother immediately upon their arrival in the DR, seems to be handling this case as a custody battle instead of a Hague case and has twice flip-flopped in their position of representation for Kali. Dhanika Athukorala, Kali’s father, has been working tirelessly to gain his daughter’s return to the United States. An initial hearing was held in April, with a ruling expected this week.


  • Congressman Richard Neal – Phone: (202) 225-5601, Fax: (202) 225-8112
  • Congressman John Olver – Phone: (202) 225-5335, Fax: (202) 226-1224
  • Senator Scott Brown – Phone: (202) 224-4543, Fax: (202) 228-2546
  • Senator John Kerry – Phone: (202) 224-2742, Fax: (202) 224-8525


TOLAND (US) Paul’s daughter, Erika, was abducted in July 2003 by her mother, who subsequently died in October 2007. Since the death of her mother, Erika continues to be held in Japan by her maternal grandmother. Japan is a non-Hague country and has never returned a child to the United States. In March 2010, several left-behind parents with children abducted to Japan joined together and founded Bring Abducted Children Home (www.BACHome.org). For additional information on recent actions relating to Japan abductions, see below.


  • Congressman Jim Moran – Phone: (202) 225-4376, Fax: (202) 225-0017
  • Senator Mark Warner – Phone: (202) 224-2023, Fax: (202) 224-6295
  • Senator Jim Webb – Phone: (202) 224-4024, Fax: (202) 228-6363


BERMUDEZ (US) Carlos Bermudez has been fighting for the return of his son, Sage, from Mexico since the summer of 2008. On March 9, 2010, the 8th Federal District Court in the State of Guanajuato Mexico denied the appeals filed against the order ruling that Sage Bermudez be “immediately returned” to his father, upholding the decision of the State Supreme Court. Sage’s mother filed yet another appeal, which is expected to be heard by the second level federal courts within three months of the file date.


  • Congressman David Price – Phone: (202) 225-1784, Fax: (202) 225-2014
  • Senator Richard Burr – Phone: (202) 224-3154, Fax: (202) 228-2981
  • Senator Kay Hagan – Phone: (202) 224-6342, Fax: (202) 228-2563


HINDLE (UK) In the same week that Florida’s state congress and senate voted to pass into law the Child Abduction Prevention Act, Florida’s 5th District Court of Appeal ruled against Karl Hindle. The judge, although acknowledging the fact that Florida is not Emily’s “home state,” cited in the ruling Florida’s Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (“UCCJEA”) and disregarded the United States obligation under the Hague Convention. Karl, who has been fighting for custody of Emily since February 2003, when her American mother brought her to the United States at 11 months of age, plans to appeal this latest ruling in U.S. Federal Court.


  • Senator George LeMieux – Phone: (202) 224-3041, Fax: (202) 228-5171
  • Senator Bill Nelson – Phone: (202) 224-5274, Fax: (202) 228-2183
  • Governor Charlie Crist – Phone: (850) 488-7146, Fax: (850) 487-0801

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