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Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act of 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Thank you, Chairman Royce, for your total support of this legislation and the initiative behind it. You have been a great friend of all of the left-behind parents and abducted children. I want to thank you very sincerely, and I also thank ELIOT ENGEL, our ranking member.

At a time when there are very few bipartisan initiatives, you, as leader of our committee, have ensured that the committee is a bipartisan committee where we work on a global basis for all people on human rights and humanitarian issues. It really has made a difference. Thank you for your support in getting this legislation here today. I appreciate that very much.

Mr. Speaker, David Goldman spent over 5 agonizing years trying to legally rescue his son, Sean, from an abduction to Brazil, which is a signatory nation, like the United States, to the Hague Abduction Convention.

Despite Mr. Goldman's airtight case that demonstrated an egregious example of both child abduction and wrongful retention, the Hague treaty was unavailing, and the outcomes in the Brazilian courts largely proved infuriating, infirm, and ineffective.

David Goldman had extraordinary legal counsel both in Brazil and in the United States. Patricia Apy, his American attorney, is a world-class expert in child abduction cases. He waged his case by the book and won judgments in the New Jersey courts. Yet both Sean and David were made to suffer emotional pain for over half a decade as one delaying ploy after another was employed by the abducting parties. In the end, Mr. Speaker, because of the father's abiding love for his son and an indomitable will, the Goldmans today are united and happy.

But the Goldmans are an exception in an ever worsening injustice that harms thousands of American children and many more kids worldwide. Most cases of parental abduction and wrongful retention have a bad ending. The child or children never return, and the left-behind parent often never sees them again. Even if left-behind parents are allowed access, the conditions are tightly supervised and of excruciatingly short duration.

Over the years, I have had the privilege of meeting many absolutely amazing, dedicated, yet heartbroken left-behind parents. Some of them are here today in this Chamber, Mr. Speaker, up in the gallery, as they wage an effort on behalf of their abducted children. Out of deep love and a commitment to justice, they, too, like David Goldman, adamantly refuse to quit.

Tragically, Mr. Speaker, their stories are often eerily the same. In the beginning days and weeks post-abduction, they thought the Hague treaty, their government, and the rule of law would ensure a swift, just, and durable remedy. As the months and then years go by, however, the journey of the left-behind parent is filled with unbearable pain. The heartache they endure is severely compounded by the fact that child abductions and wrongful retentions significantly harm children in many ways, especially psychologically.

Mr. Speaker, more than 1,000 international child abductions are reported to the State Department's Office of Children's Issues, also known as Central Authority of the United States, each and every year. That is just those that are reported. There are many that are not. Between 2008 and 2012, 7,000 American children were abducted, according to the Department of State.

According to the State Department as well, only about half of those children abducted from the U.S. to countries with which this country has reciprocal obligations under the Hague Convention are ever returned. In other words, the other half are not. And when there is no treaty obligation, less than 40 percent of abduction and access cases are resolved. It is an awful record that Congress today can help change.

The purpose of H.R. 3212, as amended, the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention Act of 2013, is to protect children from the harmful effects of abduction and wrongful retention and to assist left-behind parents to not only have access to their children, but to significantly enhance the prospects of resolution.

My biggest policy takeaway from working on the Goldman case, Mr. Speaker, was the absence of incentives for nations to prioritize resolving parental abduction cases and the complete lack of penalty for callous governmental indifference or complicity.

The Goldman Act is based on two human rights laws: the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, or TVPA, which I authored in 2000, and the International Religious Freedom Act, or IRFA, which was authored by our distinguished colleague, Frank Wolf.

The Goldman legislation seeks to hold countries to account by meticulously monitoring their performance in adjudicating parental child abduction and wrongful retention. After a vigorous analysis, if a country at its administrative, judicial, or law enforcement levels

demonstrates what we call a pattern of noncooperation, that is to say, persistent failure to fulfill its Hague Abduction Convention responsibilities, or failure of a non-Hague nation to abide by a memorandum of understanding with the United States, the President is empowered to take any number of escalating Presidential actions against that nation.

Again, patterned after both the TVPA and IRFA, the message to all nations and all past, present, and future abductors is that the United States is very serious about preventing or resolving child abduction cases. In order to ensure that the administration has maximum flexibility in advancing solutions, the President is given generous waiver authorities.

The bill also encourages the Secretary of State to seek opportunities to enter into an MOU with non-Hague Convention countries--and, obviously those that are not non-Hague can also become a part of it even when they do become one--and to establish protocols to identify, locate, and effectuate the return of an abducted child as well as access issues.

Finally, in order to ensure more robust accountability and the potential of successful interventions, the bill significantly beefs up reporting.

Finally, let me just say also, Mr. Speaker, the bill has been endorsed by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. I will include in the Record a letter from that very august organization in support.

I have a letter from Robert Wallace, the executive director of the VFW, who has also endorsed the bill and made it very clear their concern, which is reflected in the text of the bill, about our servicemembers deployed abroad who find themselves in the unbelievably horrific position of having a child abducted while they are deployed and then not only not having access to but certainly not getting their children back.

And there are a number of cases. I have had four hearings so far where they have testified. In the case of Commander Toland, who was stationed in Japan, his daughter was abducted by his now-deceased wife, and he has not had access to his daughter in a decade, Mr. Speaker. She is now 11, and he has desperately, through the rule of law and by using the process, tried to have access to and to reclaim his precious daughter as the only surviving parent.

He is like so many others. Both children of Michael Elias, a combat-injured Iraqi war veteran, were abducted. He cannot even have access to them. I actually traveled to Japan, Mr. Speaker, with the grandparents. We could not even get to see those two wonderful children. That has got to change.

This legislation seeks to use the civil aspects of the Hague Convention to empower that treaty, which is very well-intentioned but lacks enforcement capability. This legislation gives the President the tool. It adds to those tools in the toolbox to make return and access a reality rather than a dream and a hope.


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