Tonight, millions of Americans will kiss their child good night and fall asleep knowing that they will be able to do the same tomorrow. Unfortunately, for an alarming number of parents, this version of the American dream is impossible — for now — as their children are half way around the world, illegally abducted to a foreign land, leaving the American parent left behind and struggling to understand what can be done.
Between 2008 and 2015, nearly 10,000 children were abducted overseas by a parent and, in almost every case, cut off from contact with the left behind American parent.
The Hague Convention, signed by 97 countries, was designed to offer an orderly process for the return of these children to the country of “habitual residency,” or where the child had been living long-term before abduction. However, despite U.S. and international law being on side of the left behind parent, these cases often drag on for years, if ever resolved. Many of these parents have won in foreign courts, only to have the foreign government refuse to enforce their own rulings, even after the American parent traveled abroad to pick up their child. In one particular case a parent won 24 appeals in the Brazilian courts, yet inexplicably the Brazilian government still refuses to return the child.
Three years ago, Congress enacted The Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act (Public Law 113-150), legislation I authored to reunited American families. The key provisions — escalating sanctions that range from official protests through diplomatic channels to the suspension of development, security or other foreign assistance — work when properly implemented. These tools are based on the strategies used to reunite Monmouth County resident David Goldman and his son Sean, who was abducted to Brazil by his mother. Extradition is even available to resolve abduction cases.
Regrettably, the Goldman Act, like any other law, is only as strong as its implementation. Largely unenforced by the previous Administration, little to no real pressure was put on countries refusing to return American children, even from our allied countries like Japan, India and Slovakia. After left-behind parents had seen a glimmer of hope through the actions of Congress, calls of heart-broken parents continued to fall on deaf ears at the State Department. During the past Administration, barely one-third of the children abducted could expect to come home. In a 2009 hearing I held on this issue, then-Assistant Secretary of State Bernie Aronson called the State Department policy of quiet diplomacy a “sophisticated form of begging.” The indifference seen is truly mind-boggling.
U.S. inaction has been noticed — on Feb. 14, Japan’s minister of foreign affairs, Fumio Kishida, noted in a Diet discussion of abduction that, “until now there is not a single example in which the U.S. applied [Goldman Act sanctions] towards foreign countries.” Three days later a Japanese court overturned a return order for four American children.
The State Department’s own 2016 Actions Report highlights how the “words-only” strategy used during this time frame ignored the tools provided to the administration through the Goldman Act and was a failure of justice, a failure of policy and a failure of our moral obligation to these children.
The new administration now has an opportunity to move on from the mistakes of the past, prioritize the enforcement of the Goldman Act and show foreign countries that the United States is serious about finding and stopping child abduction.
To that end, I will be chairing a hearing Thursday of the House Global Human Rights Subcommittee entitled “Enforcement is not Optional: The Goldman Act to Return Abducted American Children.” Here, joined by left-behind parents from across the country, our subcommittee will urge the new administration to make these cases a priority, to use the Goldman Act and to finally bring these kids home.
Full and faithful implementation of the Goldman Act would signal to foreign nations, allies and foes alike that child abduction will no longer be tolerated. Remember, child abduction is child abuse. I urge the new administration: Let’s end this horror and restore American families.
Rep. Chris Smith, a Republican, represents New Jersey’s Fourth Congressional District.