Congressman Chris Smith’s International Child Abduction Bill Awaits President Obama’s Signature
Legislation that will give the State Department tools to apply pressure on foreign government to return abducted American children that Congressman Chris Smith as been pushing through congress for five years has finally passed both the House and Senate.
The Sean and David Goldman Act first passed the House unanimously last December. With the help of Senator Bob Menendez, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the bill passed the Senate with some changes on July 16. On Friday, the House passed the Senate version.
Sean Goldman, of Tinton Falls, was four years old in June of 2004 when his mother Bruna told her husband David that she was taking the boy to her native Brazil for a two week vacation to visit her parents. Instead, Bruna divorced David in a Brazilian Court and married another man, keeping Sean in her native country.
Smith did not represent Tinton Falls at the time, but that did not stop him for bringing international attention to the abduction and supporting David in his fight in the Brazilian Courts for the return of his son to the United States. The case strained relations between Brazil and the United States. The Brazilian Courts finally relented in late 2009, after Bruna died due to complications of childbirth. Sean was returned to the United States in March of 2010, after being marched through a crowd of reporters and photographers in the streets of Rio de Jeneirio by his Brazilian step-father.
Among its many provisions, H.R. 3212 provides eight steps the Administration should take, increasing in severity, when a country refuses to cooperate in the resolution of overseas abduction and access cases involving American children:
- a demarche (a petition or protest through diplomatic channels);
- an official public statement detailing unresolved cases;
- a public condemnation;
- a delay or cancellation of one or more bilateral working, official, or state visits;
- the withdrawal, limitation, or suspension of U.S. development assistance;
- the withdrawal, limitation, or suspension of U.S. security assistance;
- the withdrawal, limitation, or suspension of foreign assistance to the central government of a country relating to economic support; and
- a formal request to the foreign country concerned to extradite an individual who is engaged in abduction and who has been formally accused of, charged with, or convicted of an extraditable offense.
The bill also—for the first time—urges the Administration to enter into Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) or other bilateral agreements with both Hague Convention and non-Hague Convention countries, to locate and foster the return of abducted children and protect the access of the left-behind parent to the child. In order to ensure better accountability of the Administration and to warn U.S. judges who may allow a child to visit a country from which return is difficult, the bill significantly enhances reporting on country-by-country performance.
Smith noted that countries that have signed the Hague Treaty, like Japan, may still need an additional MOU to help those left-behind parents that were separated from their children prior to treaty accession.
H.R. 3212 also requires the Administration to inform Members of Congress when a child has been abducted from their districts. It also directs the Secretary of Defense to designate an official within the Department of Defense to coordinate with the Department of State on international child abduction issues and “oversee activities designed to prevent or resolve international child abduction cases relating to active duty military service members.”
“Currently, if you have a child who is illegally taken to a non-Hague country, the State Department position is that there’s little it can do to help,” Smith said. “That’s totally unacceptable. With this bill, for the first time ever, parents with children held in non-Hague countries can work with the State Department. They won’t be on their own, far from the United States, desperately trying to get their children back. The Act also ensures that the Department of Defense will assist our men and women in uniform who find themselves facing parental child abduction.”
More than one thousand international child abductions are reported to the State Department’s Office on Children’s Issues each year. Between 2008 and 2013, at least 8,000 American children were abducted, according to the State Department. Earlier this year, the National Center for Exploited and Missing Children reported that there have been at least 168 international child abductions from New Jersey since 1995.