Parents of American children abducted and wrongfully held at overseas locations came to Washington today to watch and listen as legislation authored by Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the House congressional panel that oversees human rights, was unanimously approved in a chorus of yays by the full Foreign Affairs Committee.
Left behind parents like Iraqi War veteran ex-Marine Sgt. Mike Elias; David Goldman, whose son was returned only after a 5-year long battle with Brazilian courts; and other “left behind” parents of American children abducted to India, Japan, Egypt, Tunisia and Brazil and other countries, support the legislation, H.R. 3212, the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act of 2013, which is also backed by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
“It was David Goldman's unrelenting effort to bring his son, Sean, home from Brazil that first alerted me to the epidemic of international parental child abduction in this country,” said Smith, who has travelled to Brazil and Japan in efforts to assist left behind parents. “This bill enjoys strong bipartisan support—almost every Member of the House of Representatives has constituents affected by the tragedy of international parental child abduction.
“At a time of contention and division, the Goldman Act is a shining example of Congress putting aside party differences and working together to do the right thing for our constituents, for members of the Armed Services and for parents across the United States and their abducted children across the globe who seek reunion and healing,” Smith said. “I am proud to sponsor this legislation along with so many concerned members from both parties.” Click here to read Smith’s opening statement at the markup.
More than 1,000 children are abducted out of the country every year, and less than half are returned within a year—and many never return. According to the U.S. Department of State, between the years 2008 and 2012, bereaved, left‑behind parents like Elias and Goldman reported over 4,800 abduction cases involving more than 7,000 children.
For a summary of the bill click here ; Click here for a section by section summary.
Even in countries that have signed the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, the international treaty to handle the legal aspects of child abduction, parents face an extremely expensive, uphill battle with foreign courts, endless appeals to delay justice, exploitation of the safeguards in the convention, and prejudice against foreigners.
Smith’s bill would also encourage the Secretary of State to enter into Memoranda of Understanding with non-Hague Convention countries—like Japan—for the quick and orderly return of American children who have been abducted to countries that are not signatories to the Convention, including the children of U.S. servicemen and women who are kidnapped from parents serving overseas.
In May, Smith held a hearing called “Resolving International Parental Child Abductions to Non-Hague Convention Countries,” which was held before the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations chaired by Smith.
Full Committee Chairman Ed Royce, Smith, and other members of the Foreign Affairs Committee spoke in in favor of the bill.
“Every year, more than one thousand American families are confronted with the nightmare of their child being abducted to a foreign country by one parent, in violation of legal custody and access rights, out of reach of U.S. courts and law enforcement," said Royce. "This unilateral and illegal severing of the tie between the child and the left-behind American mother or father is a tragedy. Today’s legislation strengthens the incentives and the tools that the Department of State has to address unresolved abduction cases.”
A number of left behind family members attended, including:
- Paul Toland, of Maryland, father of child abducted to Japan
- Michael Elias, of New Jersey, father of children abducted to Japan
- Barton Hermer, of Texas, father of child abducted to the U.K.
- David Goldman, of New Jersey, father of child abducted to Brazil, one of the few cases brought back to U.S. after a 5-year abduction
- David Feimster, of New Jersey, grandfather of two children held in Tunisia, but returned in 2011.
Elias’s mother, Nancy Elias of Rutherford, grandmother of Michael, also came to support her son, and the bill.
“I’m really happy that it was marked-up by the committee today,” she said. “I can’t wait until it gets passed, for the sake of these cases and future cases, and puts families back together again."
Tolland hasn’t seen his daughter since she was an infant, now held in Japan for nearly 10 years.
“I’m very pleased with the bill and am grateful to Congressman Smith and the whole Committee trying to help us, and all the children abducted everywhere,” Tolland said after the hearing. “Hopefully, the bill will stir the government to action help bring our kids home.”
Feimster, of Jackson, N.J., who worked with his daughter and Smith’s office in 2011 to bring his grandchildren back to the United States, said he hopes his case gives hope to other left behind parents who haven’t been as fortunate.
“We have our children, but many other’s don’t,” Feimster said. “That’s why I came to Washington today, to support the other families. Some day, some other families’ children will be taken away. It’s extremely difficult for anyone to go through. No parent or grandparent should have to go through this. This bill is definitely what we need to do. It gives parents one more piece to the puzzle.”
“I am not the primary victim here,” said Hermer, hoping the bill would be passed. “The immediate victims are my daughter Alessia, shared equally by the thousands of international children who have already been, or will be, separated from their families by the wrongful removal or retention of another parent. The decision you make on this bill today will have a direct effect on them tomorrow.”