Parents of Internationally Abducted Children Testify Before Congress

The following was written by Fathers and Families supporter and blog contributor, Karl Hindle.

David Goldman is the first U.S. parent to successfully recover his child from Brazil, with Sean being returned on Christmas Eve, 2009. Since then, hundreds of American children have been kidnapped overseas with thousands continuing to be unlawfully retained around the world. Six left-behind parents (including Goldman) testified before the Congressional Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights. In total, 117 parents of kidnapped children crammed into the hot committee room of the Rayburn Building across from the Capitol.

Rep. Smith came to prominence on the issue of international child abduction during his support of Goldman in his 5 year long ordeal to convince the Brazilian authorities to return his abducted son. Smith traveled to Brazil on several occasions with Goldman and was a prime mover in building political support, including the intercession of President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton.

For David and Sean Goldman there has been a fairytale happy ending, however as the testimony of other parents emerged, for most left-behind parents the enduring nightmare of separation from their children continues.

Few parents are complimentary about how the prime U.S. agency involved, the Office of Children’s Issues (OCI) at the State Department has handled their cases.  Carlos Bermudez, whose son, Sage, was abducted to Mexico 4 years ago testified
concerning his dealings with OCI, “My God, they put the DMV in charge of recovering my son!’

Bermudez is not alone in criticizing OCI specifically and the State Department generally; even in the Goldman case it was not until Congress blocked a multi- billion trade deal with Brazil that Sean was returned home. Sara Edwards was the lone mother who testified before the committee regarding her son, Eli, abducted to Turkey last year. When asked about her interaction with the State Department, a visibly upset Edwards replied, “They are professional but remote, it is as if they were doing only what is required.’ When Smith asked how many had contact with the U.S. ambassador in the countries to which their children had been kidnapped, all
replied they had not been able to do so.

Summing up the dire plight of current levels of support for victim parents, Rep. Smith said, “I have spoken to dozens of left-behind parents and there is a sense I get from many that if they are too strong with OCI there will be retaliation that may come their way or their case will get mothballed.’

Smith is not alone in identifying issues with Hague Convention compliance, last year, a British newspaper highlighted the plight of British children abducted to the United States; over one-third of them are not returned to the U.K. Meanwhile, the U.K. is described as a “model partner’ by the State Department in its annual Compliance Report on the Hague Convention.

How diplomacy and international law failed Goldman, and are clearly failing thousands of other children kidnapped overseas, has obviously influenced Smith. The previous day he re-introduced his bill, which failed to pass last year and is now known as H.R.1940. The new bill provides the president with a graduated list of 18 new powers, including the power to impose economic sanctions on countries which do not comply with the Hague Convention (the international law governing international child abduction).

H.R.1940 is likely to find broad, bi-partisan support among lawmakers, many of whom are dealing with constituents with children abducted overseas. Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) recently wrote a strongly worded letter to Costa Rican President Laura Miranda, outlining economic sanctions if Emily Koyama, the 2 year old daughter of Roy Koyama, was not returned to the U.S. In that case, the Costa Rican courts have ordered the return of Emily to the U.S., however the mother, supported by a Costa Rican women”s group, has now filed for refugee status for herself and the child.

There is a clear lesson from the testimony of left-behind parents, and from the Goldman experience – when diplomacy and international law fail, robust action must be taken and taken quickly. For Joshua Izzard, Colin Bower, Michael Elias, Sara Edwards, Carlos Bermudez and the more than one hundred other attending left-behind parents, robust action is long overdue. If the threat of sanctions worked for David Goldman, it ought to work for everyone else.

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