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.

##

Share

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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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

 

WASHINGTON, May 9

“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

http://chrissmith.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=333310

 

CLICK HERE TO VIEW WITNESS TESTIMONIES AND ARCHIVE VIDEOS

Share

Press Release of U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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.

##

 
 

RESOLUTION

 

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

http://boxer.senate.gov/en/press/releases/080212b.cfm

 

Press Release of U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg

http://lautenberg.senate.gov/newsroom/record.cfm?id=337421

 

GovTrack.Us: S.Res.543

http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/112/sres543

Share

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

http://www.royalcityrecord.com/Westminster+daughters+abducted+radioactive+Fukushima/5013371/story.html

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.

Share

The U.S. Fails Children Abducted From America
To get a child back

By Bernard Aronson

The Washington Post
Friday, February 19, 2010

For the millions who followed the story of David Goldman’s 5 1/2 -year struggle to retrieve his abducted son, Sean, from Brazil, their Christmas Eve return to the United States was a holiday “miracle.” In fact, extraordinary pressures were required to make Sean Goldman the first — and to date, only — unlawfully abducted American child returned to the United States by Brazil. Measures included unanimous resolutions in the House and Senate, a senatorial hold on the re-authorization of trade privileges for developing nations, hearings by the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, two trips to Brazil by a New Jersey congressman, and multiple personal interventions by President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The administration and Congress deserve credit for these efforts. But if that is what it takes to secure the lawful return of one abducted American child, the United States has a serious enforcement problem.

About 2,800 American children have been abducted to other nations. More cases are reported every year as bi-national marriages become more common in an era of globalization. Few left-behind families can hope to muster the kind of broad-based campaign that eventually persuaded the president of the Brazilian Supreme Tribunal to order Sean Goldman’s return to the United States. Nor should they be expected to.

This issue was supposed to have been resolved by the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abductions, which came into force in 1983 and now has 80 signatories, including Brazil and the United States. Under its terms, a child abducted across international borders by a parent or relative must be returned within six weeks to his or her country of habitual residence, where custody issues can be adjudicated lawfully. It is the international equivalent of the interstate compacts that prevent an unhappy father or mother residing in Maryland from taking his or her children to Nevada and contesting for custody there.

But signatories repeatedly refuse to return abducted American children as required by the treaty, and they suffer no consequences. Other nations, including close allies such as Japan, which harbors 99 abducted American children, have refused even to sign the treaty, let alone cooperate in its implementation.

This is not a new problem. In October 1998, Jesse Helms, then chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, decried “the failure by the United States to initiate vigorously diplomatic and law enforcement tools seeking the return of these children.” Then-Sen. Joe Biden said at the same hearing: “The act of taking a child in violation of a custodial order . . . across international borders is a heinous crime.”

Today, what left-behind parents need are not more declarations of concern but concerted action by Congress and the executive branch to bring their children home. Hopefully, the secretary of state, who raised David Goldman’s case in her first meeting with Brazil’s foreign minister and whose professional career began as an advocate for children, will override any bureaucratic resistance within the State Department and support much-needed reforms.

First, left-behind families need a high-level advocate in the State Department — appointed by the president, confirmed by the Senate and reporting directly to the secretary — who will ensure that the issue of abducted children is central to U.S. diplomatic deliberations. Today, this issue barely registers, if it appears at all, in most bilateral discussions. An ambassadorial-rank official should be required to report regularly to Congress about every newly abducted child and the status of pending cases in all members’ districts and states.

Second, Congress should empower the secretary of state to impose a range of diplomatic, economic and trade sanctions on countries that flagrantly and repeatedly refuse to return children abducted from the United States. The sanctions must have teeth and the department must be willing to employ them. If the threat of sanctions were credible, in fact, it is unlikely that they would have to be employed.

Third, in its annual budget requests for foreign assistance, including military aid, the State Department should be required to report to Congress whether each proposed recipient is cooperating in returning abducted American children.

Finally, Congress should expand programs by the international divisions of the American Bar Association to educate judges and lawyers in other nations about the Hague Convention requirements.

The Goldmans and other left-behind families will never regain the years that have been stolen from them. But Congress and the administration have the power to apply real pressure to nations harboring abducted American children today and make it far less likely that other American families will have to endure such a nightmare in the future.

The writer served as assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs from 1989 to 1993. He was an unpaid adviser to David Goldman.

Share

Looking for something?

Looking for Help

Please contact us immediately!

QR Scan

Scan the Code to access BSHF on your Smartphone.
Need a Code Reader?