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Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. I thank the distinguished gentleman for yielding and for his help and the chairman's help in making this amendment, my amendment, part of the en bloc amendment.
This amendment requires the Department of Defense, Mr. Chairman, to report to Congress on the plight of our service members who, along with their children, suffer from intrafamilial international child abduction. The international movement of our servicemembers make them especially vulnerable to the risks of international child abduction.
Attorneys familiar with this phenomenon estimate that there are approximately 25 to 30 new cases of international child abductions affecting our servicemembers every year. One man, Commander Paul Toland, recently came into my office largely because of the publicity about David Goldman and his son, Sean Goldman, the Brazilian case that I have been working on. He heard about it, and he came in and said, You have got to hear my story. And it is a heartbreaking story.
Commander Toland was deployed to Yokohama, Japan. He and his wife, regrettably, had a split.
She is now tragically deceased. And yet for approximately 6 long years, he has been trying to get his daughter back and has been unable to. The custody of his child is with the maternal grandparents. Again, he has not been able to get his own child back. Commander Toland received poor advice from the Naval Legal Services Officer on how to adjudicate the case. Have others?
Be advised, The amendment will not entangle the Department of Defense in custody disputes. Rather it will instruct the Department of Defense to study and produce a comprehensive report to Congress about what they are doing to ensure that our servicemembers are receiving preventive education, legal protections and other assistance needed to avoid and, when necessary, resolve the international abduction of their children. This is the least we can do for those who serve our nation.
Our servicemen and women risk much in the service of our Nation. We must do all that we can to mitigate the risks to their families. I thank my colleagues for supporting this amendment, especially the ranking member and the distinguished Chair.
I rise in support of the amendment to require the Department of Defense (DOD) to report to Congress on the plight of our service members who, along with their children, suffer from intra-familial and international child abduction. The international movements of our service men and women make them especially vulnerable to the risks of international child abduction. This amendment will require a study to pinpoint the extent of the problem within our armed services and what the DOD is doing to prevent and remedy international child abduction within the armed services.
The particular issue of international child abduction came to my attention with the Sean Goldman case. As many of you know, Sean Goldman was abducted to Brazil by his mother for a family vacation when Sean was four years old. His mother divorced his father and refused to return the child to the United States, which was Sean's country of habitual residence and consequently should have been the legal jurisdiction in which custody was decided. Sean's father has been fighting for the return of his son for five years. Sean's mother is now deceased, and Sean's father still cannot get him back.
Since my involvement with this case, I have been receiving calls from parents left behind in an international child abduction--the particular plight of military parents caught my attention. Military parents are at heightened risk because they often marry when they are serving this country abroad, and may live in numerous countries, including the United States, while they build a family with their spouse. Upon divorce, one parent sometimes whisks the child away to a legal jurisdiction unfavorable to the left behind parent.
Such was the case of Commander Paul Toland, whose infant daughter was abducted by his estranged wife while he was stationed on our naval base in Yokohama, Japan. When he sought help from the Naval Legal Services Office on base, he was told to hire a local lawyer and deal with the issue himself in Japanese courts.
Whether through lack of training by the DOD or lack of attention by the personnel, this very wrong advice from the Naval Legal Services Office directed Commander Toland to give up the legal jurisdiction of his home state and engage with a foreign legal jurisdiction that has NEVER returned a child to the United States. Commander Toland's former wife is now deceased, his daughter lives with her ailing grandmother in Japan, and he still cannot get her back. The fight has been six long years, and it continues with little hope.
Attorneys familiar with this phenomena estimate that there are approximately 25-30 new cases of international child abductions affecting our service men and women every year. Our service men and women risk much in their service to our nation. The DOD must do what it can to minimize their risks.
This amendment would not entangle the Department of Defense in custody disputes. Rather, this amendment will instruct the DOD to share with Congress what they are doing to ensure that our service men and women are receiving the preventative education, legal protection, and other assistance needed to avoid and resolve the international abduction of their children. This amendment asks the Department of Defense to report to Congress on the following items:
The total number of children abducted from military parents;
The total number of children who were later returned to left behind military parents;
What the DOD did to facilitate any of the returns, and what sorts of assistance the DOD offers to military parents--such as psychological counseling, financial assistance, legal services, and leave for travel;
The means through which available services, information, and activities relating to international child abductions are communicated to left behind military parents;
The training provided to those who supply legal assistance to the left behind military parents;
Measures taken by the DOD to prevent abductions;
Which of the Status of Forces Agreements negotiated with host countries are written to protect the military parent's ability to adjudicate abduction cases in the parent's state of legal residence;
The feasibility of including in present and future Status of Forces Agreements a framework for the resolution of child abduction;
Identification of potential strategies for engagement with host countries with high incidence of international child abductions;
Whether the DOD coordinates on abductions with other departments, such as the U.S. Department of State;
Whether the DOD currently partners with, or intends to partner with, civilian experts on international child abduction;
Whether the DOD has engaged in joint efforts with the U.S. Department of State to provide a forum, such as a conference, for left behind military parents to share experiences, network and develop best practices for securing the return of abducted children;
An assessment as to how international child abductions impact the force readiness of our service members.
We all want to do right by our service men and women. The study called for by this amendment will give us a window into what we are already doing, and what we can do better to protect our service men and women from the frustration and anguish of international child abduction.
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