Washington, DC - With David Goldman and other left-behind parents from around the country at a congressional markup Tuesday, Chairman Smith’s bill 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 Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights and Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), 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.” Click here to read Chairman Smith’s opening remarks, which spell out 17 presidential actions the bill provides to help recover U.S. children.
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 markup 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 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.
“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.”
Chairman Smith is also working to strengthen international efforts to address the issue through the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and its Parliamentary Assembly. His resolution calling for all 56 OSCE participating States to adhere to the Hague Convention was adopted at the 2011 Parliamentary Assembly meeting in Belgrade, and he is working to have the OSCE Ministerial Council adopt a similar decision at its meeting in Dublin, Ireland in December.
The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, is an independent agency of the Federal Government charged with monitoring compliance with the Helsinki Accords and advancing comprehensive security through promotion of human rights, democracy, and economic, environmental and military cooperation in 56 countries. The Commission consists of nine members from the U.S. Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce.