WASHINGTON, D.C. – “Left-behind” parents came from across the country to watch as Members of the House of Representatives voted to unanimously pass a bill to help
bring home American children abducted to overseas destinations, said Congressman Chris Smith (NJ-04), the author of the legislation and chairman of the House congressional panel which oversees human rights.
“The bill gives us continued hope that our elected officials grasp the enormity and the severity of this ongoing injustice and pail inflicted upon these victim families torn apart because their American children have been ripped from their loving arms,” said David Goldman, of Monmouth County, N.J., who waged a five-year battle to get his son back from Brazil. He is one of the lucky parents. H.R. 3212, the “Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act of 2013,” passed 398-0 late Thursday.
Smith has held several hearings on the heartbreaking cases of left-behind parents of American children abducted to India, Japan, Egypt, India, Brazil, Russia, England and other countries where far too few of the thousands of U.S. kids held wrongfully overseas are returned. Not all countries have signed The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, the standing international treaty to try to address parental abductions via a civil framework that provides for the quick return of abducted children, and access rights to both parents. Sadly, even Hague signatories, like Brazil, often don’t enforce its provisions.
“Mr. Speaker, more than one thousand international child abductions are reported to the State Department’s Office on Children’s Issues—the Central Authority of the United States—each year. Between 2008 and 2012, 7,000 American children were abducted, according to the State Department,” said Smith, who has been pushing for over three years to see the bill brought out of committee and to the House floor for passage. “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 Memorandum of Understanding with non-Hague Convention countries and establish protocols to identify, locate and effectuate the return of an abducted child as well as access issues. In order to ensure more robust accountability and the potential of successful interventions, the bill significantly beefs up reporting.
“I urge passage,” Smith told his colleagues on the House floor. “Abducted children and left-behind parents need this legislation now. “ Click here to read Smith’s floor remarks.
At a press conference before the vote, parents from across the country spoke out in favor of the bill. Left-behind parents traveled from across the country to watch the debate and the vote, including Goldman; Arvind Chawdra, father of two whose children were abducted to India; Paul Toland, father of a daughter abducted to Japan; Cheryl Shirley, grandmother of the four children abducted in Brazil; Bindu Philips, mother of children abducted to India; Barton Hermer, father whose child was abducted to U.K., and; Dennis Burns, father of two children taken to Argentina.
“H.R. 3212 is not [just] a bill, it is a hope for all left-behind parents that they will be reunited with their children someday,” said Chawdra of Edison, N.J., who would like to see the Senate act quickly. “I am hoping 100 percent this will be done.”
Phillips, whose husband denies her any contact with her two children, has lived with abduction for five years. Until that day in 2008, she had never gone a single day without being with them.
“I will never give up,” Phillips said. “I shall always be thankful and grateful to Congressman Smith who has become a champion in seeking justice for the cause of international child abductions.
“I really hope that this legislation will pass,” she said. “It means so much to me and all the left- behind parents who are longing to be with our children. I will always love Albert and Alfred. I hope this legislation will reunite us soon.”
Hermer, of Plano, Texas, is the father of Alessia, 5, who was abducted by her mother to the U.K., and has refused to return Alessia to her father despite U.S. court orders.
“I wish to point out to you that the U.K. pursues the return of their abducted children with the same tenacity that our country is now pursuing in Alessia’s case,” Hermer said to reporters. “I plead to you, to the media, to the government, please stand behind us. These are our most precious citizens and they need to be brought home immediately.”
The bill now heads to the Senate.