Exactly Five Years to the Day of First Introduction, Smith’s Int’l Child Abduction Bill Passes Senate; Heads Back to House for Final Approval

Bill prods State Dept. and provides tools to bring American children home

Written by Jeff Sagnip, Office of Congressman Chris Smith


On Wednesday, July 16, exactly five years to the day that Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) introduced his first bill to prevent international parental child abduction, the U.S. Senate finally approved Smith’s legislation, The Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act, House of Representatives Bill 3212 (H.R. 3212).

Smith wrote the original proposed legislation in 2009 subsequent to his personal intervention in the fight to bring Sean Goldman home to New Jersey, years after he had been abducted to Brazil by his mother. Smith’s successful work with Sean’s father, David, and a team of lawyers, volunteers and media helped bring Sean home, but also uncovered gaping weaknesses in U.S. law and the need to codify best practices so that other Americans will also see their children returned home.


PICTURED: David Goldman and Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ4), July 16, 2009.


At its core, Smith’s legislation will give the State Department a variety of tools to pressure foreign governments to send home American children abducted to overseas destinations. The bill also requires better reporting and support from the State Department so that left-behind parents are not on their own in overseas battles to win the return of their abducted children.

During his five year struggle, Smith has authored four versions of the bill (HR 3240; HR 1940; HR 1951 and HR 3212) using each to educate his colleagues and make modifications aimed at winning widespread support in an increasingly partisan congress. In December 2013, the House passed Smith’s bill unanimously, 398-0. Smith said he was grateful that Foreign Affairs Chairman Bob Menendez and Ranking Republican Bob Corker released the bill out of committee to the Senate floor where it passed unanimously in a voice vote, with some final modifications.

“In the five-year push to turn this bill into law, we have seen a sea change in the Congress’ and State Department’s understanding of international parental child abduction—an understanding that these abductions are a form of child abuse and a human rights violation. There are many heartbroken parents waiting for this bill to help them in their fight to see their children again.

“Many children and parents have tragically lost years separated from each other in violation of U.S. and international law,” Smith said. “They have missed birthdays, holidays, and family time—that they can never get back. H.R. 3212 ensures that they will now receive significant help from the U.S. government in their fights to recover their children. Every day a child is separated from his or her rightful parent and home in the United States brings immense suffering to both parent and child. The Goldman Act is designed to right the terrible wrong of international child abduction and heal enormous pain and suffering and bring abducted children home.”

In 2013, Smith named the bill after David and Sean Goldman who have been reunited in Monmouth County for nearly five years. Following Sean’s return to New Jersey, David Goldman has stayed active in promoting the legislation in an effort to spare other parents and children the painful, illegal separation he and his son endured for five years.

Smith has held multiple hearings on the heartbreaking cases of left-behind parents of American children abducted to India, Japan, Egypt, Brazil, Russia, England and other countries, from which few are returned. Not all countries have signed The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, the main international treaty to address parental abductions. The Hague provides a civil framework for the quick return of abducted children to their home country, and facilitation of visitation and contact between parents and children during the pendency of the case and after the resolution. Unfortunately, many Hague signatories, like Brazil, fail to consistently enforce the Hague Convention provisions.

Among its many provisions, H.R. 3212 provides eight steps the Administration should take, increasing in severity, when a country refuses to cooperate in the resolution of overseas abduction and access cases involving American children:

  • a demarche;
  • an official public statement detailing unresolved cases;
  • a public condemnation;
  • a delay or cancellation of one or more bilateral working, official, or state visits;
  • the withdrawal, limitation, or suspension of U.S. development assistance;
  • the withdrawal, limitation, or suspension of U.S. security assistance;
  • the withdrawal, limitation, or suspension of foreign assistance to the central government of a country relating to economic support; and
  • a formal request to the foreign country concerned to extradite an individual who is engaged in abduction and who has been formally accused of, charged with, or convicted of an extraditable offense.

    The bill also—for the first time—urges the Administration to enter into Memorandums of Understanding or other bilateral agreements with non-Hague Convention countries to locate and foster the return of abducted children and protect the access of the left-behind parent to the child. In order to ensure better accountability of the Administration and to warn U.S. judges who may allow a child to visit a country from which return is difficult, the bill significantly enhances reporting on country-by-country performance.

    H.R. 3212 also requires the Administration to inform Members of Congress about abducted children from their districts. It also that directs the Secretary of Defense shall designate an official within the Department of Defense to coordinate with the Department of State on international child abduction issues and “oversee activities designed to prevent or resolve international child abduction cases relating to active duty military service members.

    “Currently, if you have a child who is illegally taken to a non-Hague country, the State Department position is that there’s nothing it can do to help,” Smith said. “That’s totally unacceptable. With this bill, for the first time ever, parents with children held in non-Hague countries can work with the State Department. They won’t be on their own, far from the United States, desperately trying to get their children back. The Act also ensures that the Department of Defense will assist our men and women in uniform who find themselves facing parental child abduction.”

    More than one thousand international child abductions are reported to the State Department’s Office on Children’s Issues each year. Between 2008 and 2013, at least 8,000 American children were abducted, according to the State Department. Earlier this year, the National Center for Exploited and Missing Children reported that there have been at least 168 international child abductions from New Jersey since 1995.






    David Goldman Receives 2013 Paul H. Chapman Award

    The Bring Sean Home Foundation is very pleased to report that our director and co-founder David Goldman was honored to receive a Paul H. Chapman Award on Saturday, September 28, 2013 from the Foundation for Improvement of Justice.

    A total of six awards were given in 2013 to “recognize innovative and effective works and/or programs whose efforts have made positive influential differences in the Unites States criminal and civil judicial arenas.” Mr. Goldman’s accomplishments were recognized under the categories of Crime Victims’ Rights, Child Protection, and Legal Reform (a detailed description is provided below).

    Please join us in congratulating David for this well deserved recognition.


    PICTURED: David Goldman attends the Foundation for Improvement of Justice's 2013 Paul H. Chapman Awards Dinner with his wife, Wendy.


    Foundation for Improvement of Justice: 2013 Paul H. Chapman Awards (www.justiceawards.com)

    David Goldman is recognized for his work as a Director and Co-Founder of the Bring Sean Home Foundation whose mission is “to assist victims of international child abduction, educate the public about this issue, prevent further abductions and draw attention to the increasing number of cases that currently exist with the purpose of returning abducted children to their home countries and reuniting them with their left-behind families.” It began with David’s own five and a half year civil fight to return his abducted son to the United States. In May of 2013, after testimony from David Goldman and others, the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act of 2013 was introduced by Congressman Chris Smith and has been passed on to the Foreign Affairs Committee. The bill would empower the president with new penalties to inflict on countries that refuse to return American children and eighteen new tools to try to secure their return.

    Mr. Goldman was nominated for this award by Ms. MaLisa McOmber.



    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





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