The international child abduction ordeal of Tinton Falls' David and Sean Goldman sparked a law to help bring such kids home. It's not being enforced.
By Jerry Carino of the Asbury Park Press
The Goldmans are doing well, but as she testified at a Congressional hearing last week, the law their ordeal spawned could be doing better.
Apy asserted that the Sean and David Goldman Child Abduction Act, which gives the U.S. State Department authority to pressure nations that harbor abducted kids, is only partially working. It serves as a deterrent, but once a child has been illegally relocated to a foreign country (in most cases by a fleeing parent), the left-behind parent doesn’t get the help the law promises.
The Goldman story:10 years after reunion, Sean Goldman fights for other abducted kids
“Every parent has to become a diplomat,” Apy told the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hearing in Washington, D.C. “These are systemic problems.”
The hearing was chaired by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who was deeply involved in the Goldmans’ 2009 reunion and spearheaded the subsequent legislation. There are at least 12,000 similar cases currently under the State Department’s auspices, Apy said, but sanctions are not being applied as allowed by the Goldman Act.
“The tools are there,” Smith said by phone earlier this week. “It’s just they lack the political will to enforce it. Why do we have to keep saying, ‘Do your job’ to the U.S. Department of State?”
Both Smith and Apy said this has been a problem under the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations.
“They do not like the idea that something that seems like a domestic, individual issue should impact foreign policy,” Apy said by phone. “The point I want to make is for most Americans, this is as real as foreign policy gets.”
‘It’s become laughable’
The Goldmans’ backstory story is well-documented. In 2004 Sean’s mother, Brazil-born Bruna Bianchi, told then-husband David she was taking Sean on a two-week vacation to visit family in her native country.
Upon arriving she called David, informing them their marriage was over and that Sean would not be returning to the United States. After Bianchi died in childbirth in 2008, her family refused to give the boy to his father.
But David’s relentless pursuit of custody and a combination of diplomatic and media pressure led to Sean’s return home on Christmas Eve of 2009.
The key piece of diplomatic pressure is largely absent from most cases, Apy said, even with countries that have signed a treaty pledging to cooperate on cases of international parent-child abductions.
In 2020 alone, 25 New Jersey children were reported to the State Department as having been abducted to a foreign country.
“A lot of people simply don’t understand how it is possible that you could lawfully have a child ordered back, we have a treaty relationship, and nothing is done to insist that it takes place,” Apy said. “It’s become laughable. It demonstrates that you don’t think this issue is important."
She added, “The effort that it takes for a (left-behind) parent or in some cases a grandparent to run this gauntlet, and to try to get the attention of their own diplomats, who ostensibly serve them, is what is frustrating.”
Apy would like to see the creation of an ambassador-at-large position, as called for in the Goldman Act, to address the issue.
“I do believe having an ambassador-at-large makes a difference because that elevates the discussion from the State Department,” she said. “It’s no longer just an administrative function. It is instead elevated to where if an ambassador meets with their counterpart, they should have the authority of the United States of America to be able to talk about sanctions with reality and authority. That’s the message that really needs to be pressed.”
Apy, who originally hails from Neptune and lives in Little Silver, hosted Sean and David Goldman at her Red Bank law firm Paras Apy & Reiss in 2019 to celebrate the 10-year-annivesary of their reunion — and to remind the public that many more unresolved cases persist. Between 2016 and 2020, Apy said, 34 children have been abducted from New Jersey to India alone. Other Garden State cases involve Japan, Brazil and Argentina.
“This has not gone away,” she said this week. “It boils down to this: Somehow diplomacy is more important than the abduction of a single child, which I think is a huge mistake.”
Jerry Carino is community columnist for the Asbury Park Press, focusing on the Jersey Shore’s interesting people, inspiring stories and pressing issues. Contact him at email@example.com.
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