Bill Seeks to Add Teeth to Laws on International Child Abduction

Our good friend and occasional contributor, Marcy Beildeck sends us this information on a hearing that’s to be held May 24th before the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights chaired by Christopher Smith of New Jersey.  The subject of the hearing is international child abduction and the goal of those participating is to get Congress to pass and the President to sign a bill creating an Ambassador-at-Large position to deal exclusively with cases of international child abduction. Below is information about the hearing.  Those promoting the bill are encouraging people to attend the open meeting and express their support for the bill.

Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) International Child Abduction: Broken Laws and Bereaved Lives

You are respectfully requested to attend the following open hearing of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights to be held in Room 2203 of the Rayburn House Office Building.

Date Tuesday, May 24, 2011 Time 2:00 PM Location Room 2203 of the Rayburn House Office Building

witnesses Panel I: Mr. David Goldman Father of Abducted and Subsequently Returned Child

Ms. Sarah Edwards Mother of Abducted Child Mr. Carlos Bermudez Father of Abducted Child

Panel II Mr. Michel Elias Father of Abducted Children

Mr. Joshua Izzard Father of Abducted Child Ms. Patricia Apy Attorney Paras, Apy & Reiss, P.C.

Note Further witnesses may be added.

It should come as no surprise that the bill is before Chris Smith’s subcommittee.  He’s from New Jersey and was instrumental in assisting David Goldman secure the return of his son Sean from Brazil to which his mother had abducted him some four years previously.  And, as this article tells us, Goldman’s is one of the most persuasive voices in support of the Ambassador-at-Large concept (Eatontown-Tinton Falls Patch, 5/17/11).

David Goldman, who brought his son, Sean, back to New Jersey in 2009, has not given up his fight on international child custody issues, saying that even though his son is back, he does not want other parents to go through what he did.

The point of having a special post of Ambassador-at-Large would be for that person to devote him/herself exclusively to child abduction cases.  Currently, that’s the job of the U.S. State Department and  the results are not always good.  As Goldman knows all too well, the issues that ambassadors to particular countries understand and deal with seldom include child abduction.  Worse, as we’ve learned in articles dealing with abductions to Mexico, the interests of the United States abroad and those of parents with abducted children often conflict.  Predictably, the larger issues tend to get more attention than individual cases of abducted children. Our relationship with Mexico is a particularly good example of the phenomenon.  Immigration, trade and illegal drug issues take precedence for the United States and our ambassador in Mexico City may be hesitant to push the country to comply with the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction if doing so might compromise the country’s broader agenda.

Goldman said that while U.S. ambassadors to individual countries can work on these cases, he said that with economic and defense issues at the top of most bilateral agendas, child custody is not a priority. Ambassadors at large have been used by the State Department since the Truman Administration to have an official focused on diplomacy regarding specific issues. Current ambassadors at large include those for war crimes and women”s issues. The Obama Administration also has created special envoys to focus on issues including labor affairs, human trafficking and disability. “The kids are at the bottom of their ladder,’ Goldman said of ambassadors’ priorities.

Some may consider it ironic – others the very opposite – that the call to bypass regular State Department channels comes when the secretary is Hilary Clinton.  Clinton after all has spoken and written at length about the value of families from her days as a Yale undergraduate through her time as First Lady during which she published the book “It Takes a Village.”  Indeed, she was instrumental in the research on Goldstein, Solnit and Freud’s “Beyond the Best Interests of the Child,” the book that, far more than any other, is responsible for family court policies and practices separating fathers from their children. Beyond the Ambassador-at-Large idea, Goldman has other ideas on how to improve U.S. response to international child abduction.

Among the proposals Goldman is pushing for is automatic notification of impacted members of Congress when the State Department is notified of an international child custody dispute. He said Smith”s work on the issue was helpful in his case and members of Congress can help push trade and foreign aid sanctions against countries in violation of the Hague treaties.

If you can attend the hearing this coming Tuesday, by all means do. Thanks to Marcy for the heads-up.

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