Sean & David Goldman Act, introduced by Rep. Chris Smith, passes House subcommittee
April 27, 2012
BY KRISTEN DALTON
Greater Media Newspapers
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.