Joined by left-behind parents of abducted children,Smith urges State Department to take bolder action to bring home American children abducted abroad—focuses on Japan
WASHINGTON – Joined by left-behind parents who have been separated from their children for years, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) urged the State Department to take bolder action to help bring home American children abducted overseas and implement stronger tools—including sanctions—provided by the Sean and David Goldman Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act at a hearing on Capitol Hill today.
Much of the attention focused on Japan—where many American military personnel are stationed—which has a pattern of non-compliance on resolving child abduction cases.
“We—as Congress and as the U.S. Government—must do what we can to reunify parents with their children,” said Rep. Smith, who authored the Goldman Act, which was enacted into law in 2014 to empower the State Department to combat international child abductions. “Child abduction is child abuse. These young victims, like their left-behind parents, are U.S. citizens who need the help of their government when normal legal processes are unavailable or have failed.”
“The Goldman Act has empowered the executive branch with serious tools—sanctions— to promote adherence to law and return Americans. Use them,” said Smith, who chaired the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hearing entitled “The Rights of Parents and Children: How to Better Implement the Goldman Act on Child Abduction.”
The hearing included compelling and heart-wrenching testimony from two parents—Jeffery Morehouse and Noelle Hunter—who have endured years apart from their children, as well as Patricia Apy—the prominent international family law attorney from Red Bank, New Jersey, whose critical work to help reunite David Goldman with his son Sean in the high-profile abduction case informed Smith’s drafting of the Goldman Act.
“For seven years The Goldman Act has not been used to its potential by The State Department,” said Jeffery Morehouse, the Executive Director of Bring Abducted Children Home, who has been fighting to get his son Mochi back from Japan since 2010. He said we must “obligate State to be true to the intent of the Act—to return our kidnapped children.”
“I would like to ask why the State Department seems enchanted with demarches—the tiny stick with which they gently assail nations with diplomatic wrist slaps for patterns of noncompliance in returning America’s Stolen Children—when the Goldman Act is replete with escalating, weighty enforcement tools,” said Noelle Hunter, the President and Co-founder of iStand Parent Network Inc., who was reunited with her daughter Muna after she was abducted to Mali for three years.
“Diplomatic efforts are not enough, and available diplomatic sanctions have to be requested and applied on behalf of children to elevate the priority given and urgency needed to bring every abducted child, home,” Patricia Apy said.
The State Department, charged with resolving international child abduction cases, declined an invitation to testify at Smith’s hearing. Its annual reports required by the Goldman Act show that more than 12,350 American children have been abducted internationally by a parent since 2008.
Smith said the State Department’s absence at the hearing was “deeply disappointing,” but that the invitation to testify “remains active.”
“We want to hear from the Biden Administration on these critical matters,” Smith said. “Delay is denial. Left behind parents and the children they love and cherish absolutely deserve answers,” said Smith, who first wrote the Goldman Act in 2009 after personally intervening in the fight to bring Sean Goldman home to New Jersey years after he had been abducted to Brazil by his mother.
One country that is “internationally known as a black hole for child abduction” is Japan, which is “persistently failing to aid in the reunification and return of our victimized children,” said Morehouse, who last saw his son on Father’s Day in 2010 after dropping him off to visit his mother.
Despite being granted sole custody of his son by Washington State in 2007, Morehouse said his ex-wife went to the Japanese consulate in Portland, which issued her a passport for their child in violation of their Ministry of Foreign Affairs Passport issuance policy. Since then, Morehouse has won two lengthy legal cases in Japan where courts ruled that the U.S. custody order has legal effect, but the country has refused to provide any reunification.
Smith, who said that Japan apparently does not recognize the concept of joint custody and instead grants custody to one parent—a law that “rewards the abductor parent”—is drafting new legislation to address the issue. “This hearing–and your testimony–will help inform that legislation,” he said.
PHOTOS: Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) chairs a Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hearing on the State Department’s implementation of the Goldman Act. Two parents—Jeffery Morehouse (left) and Noelle Hunter (right)—whose children were abducted overseas, and Patricia Apy (center), the attorney for David Goldman, offer testimony at the hearing.