With David Goldman and other left behind parents from around the country at a congressional mark-up Tuesday, a bill designed to empower the U.S. State Department with more tools to achieve the return of children abducted from the U.S. and to enforce the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction was approved by Members of the House panel that oversees human rights.
Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04), chairman of the House congressional human rights subcommittee, saw his bill, H.R. 1940, now named the "Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction, Prevention and Return Act" lauded by the panel members as a way to help bring thousands of American children who are victims of international parental child abduction, back home. According to the U.S. State Department, over 3,200 new international parental child abduction cases involving over 4,700 children were reported from October 2008 to December 2010.
"Parental child abduction is child abuse," Smith said. "Too many families have been waiting too long for the return of their children. Our current system with its endless delays and lack of proper accountability has failed too many. It is time for an approach that backs our demands with penalties and makes very clear to foes and friends alike that our children are our top priority."
Smith said the bill, approved by unanimous consent, "will put teeth into U.S. government efforts to reclaim abducted American children by giving the President important tools that motivate other countries to more quickly respond to efforts to return an abducted child."
At the mark-up were left behind parents and family members, including Goldman of Monmouth County, N.J., father of Sean Goldman who was abducted to Brazil. Goldman was engaged in a widely-publicized, grueling, five-year battle to see his son again and bring him home on Dec. 24, 2009. Unfortunately many "left-behind' parents, unlike Goldman, have never seen their children again after the abduction.
Left behind parents Chris Savoie, Paul Toland and Douglas Berg all offered their personal painful experiences at the proceeding, as did left-behind grandparent of two New Jersey abducted children, Nancy Elias. All spoke with reporters prior to the mark-up. Seated next to Goldman and the other left behind parents at the hearing was NBC Dateline journalist Meredith Vieira, who helped bring critical attention to Goldman's case.
"H.R. 1940 as amended is also for the left behind parents and bereaved children who have been taken to countries that are not party to the Hague Abduction Convention," Smith said. "Parents like Michael Elias, a combat-injured Iraqi veteran from New Jersey, whose ex-wife used her Japanese consulate connections to abduct little Jade and Michael Jr., after the New Jersey court had ordered surrender of passports and joint custody."
Smith said H.R. 1940 directs the President to take measured, effective, and predictable actions to aggressively advocate for our children's return. Such actions range from denial of certain assistance to prohibiting the procurement of certain goods or services from the government or instrumentality responsible for the pattern of noncooperation.
"I hope that it will not be necessary to use the penalties provided in this bill," Smith said. "In the best case scenario, just the possibility of adverse consequences will motivate the resolution of current open cases of international child abduction, and prevent additional cases from happening in the first place. If parents have no place to hide, they are less likely to run with the children."
All of the subcommittee Members attended the mark-up and all supported Smith's legislation. Speaking in strong favor of passage were Ranking Democrat Rep. Karen Bass (CA-33), Vice Chairman Jeff Fortenberry (NE-01), Tom Marino (PA-10), Ann Marie Buerkle (NY-25) and Robert Turner (NY-09).
"We must act quickly and decisively to raise international awareness of the gravity of parental child abduction and galvanize the will of the international community to stop it," Smith said. "This Subcommittee's approval of this bill is a first step to achieving these goals."