My former wife took our son to Brazil two years ago. He’s still not back.


November 18, 2015

Source: The Washington Post

On July 1, 2013, my almost 4-year-old son, Nico, boarded a plane in Texas bound for Brazil, traveling with my then-wife Marcelle Guimarães to visit her family. Since that day, my son has not set foot in his bedroom, attended classes at our local elementary school or been able to return to see his 11 cousins or six aunts and uncles who live in Texas.

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My wife had filed for divorce, and we had agreed to joint custody of our son. She asked if she could travel with him to Brazil for her brother’s wedding. I could not bear the thought of losing Nico, but I also didn’t want to cut him off from his mother’s family. I let them leave, but only after making sure we had a travel agreement, signed by our lawyers and filed with the Texas court, requiring my wife to return. I knew I had done everything I could to protect my son, and I prayed he would be back safe in my arms in three weeks time.

Read: We can help you recover your abducted child

Two-and-a-half years later, I am still waiting. According to the State Department, I am merely one of 763 American parents whose children were illegally taken to 66 different countries and who are struggling to secure their return. But if the U.S. government cannot secure the return of Nico, no left-behind parent has any hope.

The moment I got the call from my lawyer, I knew my worst fears had been realized. Within days of arriving in Brazil, my wife filed for sole custody in Brazil state court. She claimed I was physically and mentally sick and omitted any mention of the Texas legal proceedings. I learned later from those filings that she had gotten a job and enrolled Nico in school months before signing the travel agreement. The Brazil court gave her sole custody of Nico without telling me a case had been filed.

After we separated, our relationship was strained, but we loved our son. It wasn’t perfect, but Nico got to spend half his time with me. Today, I see him less than 1 percent of the time and only under supervision of armed guards, despite eight experts from the United States and Brazil having said I am an excellent father. Judge Darilda Oliveira Maier has inexplicably refused six requests over the past two years to have a hearing to revisit the decision of sole custody or the terms of my visitation.

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America’s Abducted Kids Get No Help From Japan


June 17, 2015

Source: The Wall street Journal / Chris Smith

A new law was supposed to enlist the State Department in helping to bring the kids back, but Tokyo has talked its way out of cooperating.

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The U.S. State Department last month released its first annual report on countries that refuse to return American children who have been abducted by a parent and taken abroad. Conspicuously absent from the worst-offenders list in the report is the country with the world’s worst record of cooperation: Japan. Tokyo has never issued and enforced a return order for any one of the more than 50 American children currently held captive there by a parent who violated the wishes of another parent in taking the child overseas. This is in addition to the hundreds of previously abducted American children who became adults without knowing the love, culture and care of their American parent.

Last year Congress passed the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act, which requires that the State Department hold countries accountable if an abduction case is still unresolved a year after State requests assistance in the return of a child. As the prime sponsor of the Goldman Act, I believe it is important to remind the State Department of its obligations under the law. First, State must accurately count all unresolved cases in its annual report. Second, the secretary of state needs to take action against all countries that have 30% or more unresolved cases, or that are otherwise noncompliant in helping to resolve abduction cases. When it comes to Japan, State falls far short on both counts.

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Initially, the law seemed effective at bringing Japan’s attention to the issue. Tokyo was so worried about being found noncompliant in the report and put on the worst-offenders list that it sent a high-level delegation to the U.S. to meet with Ambassador Susan Jacobs just before the report was due and explain its lack of compliance.

For State, it seems, that meeting was enough to absolve Japan. Rather than provide the report as required by law, State later delivered to Congress a table loaded with zeroes in the “unresolved” category of countries and then, adding insult to injury, listed Japan with a 43% abduction-resolution rate.

The more than 50 American parents who have spent years trying to bring their children home were shocked and devastated. With the new law, they thought their country would finally stand with them in working to bring their children home. Instead, the State Department attempted an end-run around the Goldman Act, squandering any real leverage in the process.

State’s failure to hold Japan accountable delegitimizes the entire report and undermines its purpose. Other countries can now look at it as a deal-making political trope. It is truly a waste of what could have been a highly effective diplomatic tool.

Furthermore, State’s continued refusal to reveal each country’s real number of unresolved cases, even when required to do so by law, should worry every American who believes the U.S. government should be honest about successes and failures in the return of American abducted children. I have asked State repeatedly for the number of unresolved cases in India, for instance, only to be stonewalled.

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Congress passed the Goldman Act to compel transparency and action. Yet what the State Department is doing is ultimately perpetuating the status quo, where far less than half of abducted American children are reunited with their families.

International parental child abduction rips children from their homes and uproots their lives, alienating them from a left-behind parent who loves them and whom they have a right to know. Abducted children often lose their relationship with their parent, half of their identity and half of their culture. Child abduction is child abuse.

Congress went to great lengths to reunite these families, passing the Goldman Act unanimously. But a law is only as good as its implementation. A congressional hearing on June 11 featured anguished parents of children abducted to and currently held in Japan, India and elsewhere. With hope, the State Department will learn from their stories and follow through on enforcement in the future.

Mr. Smith represents New Jersey’s fourth Congressional district.

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Goldman Act bolsters fight for return of abducted children


August 5, 2014

Source: The Hub

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Capt. Paul Toland (from left), whose daughter was kidnapped in Japan; Bindu Philips, of Plainsboro, whose two sons were abducted to India; and David Goldman, whose son was abducted to Brazil and returned after a five-year ordeal, joined Rep. Chris Smith in calling for passage of the Goldman Act to help families who have been victimized by international abductions.

A bill empowering the U.S. State Department to aggressively pursue the return of internationally abducted children is headed to the president’s desk after being approved by Congress.

The Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act, the fourth bill of its kind introduced by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-4), was drafted after Smith became involved with David Goldman’s fight to be reunited with his son, Sean.

According to Jeff Sagnip, the congressman’s press secretary, Goldman’s wife absconded with Sean from the family’s Tinton Falls home in June 2004, bringing him to Brazil when he was 4 years old without seeking custody of Sean or legally divorcing Goldman in a U.S. court.

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She subsequently died in childbirth, Sagnip said, and the Brazilian government held that her partner at the time of her death should maintain custody of Sean.

Brazil is a signatory of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, but chose to ignore the policies outlined by the international agreement, Sagnip said.

“Previously, the State Department would say ‘… There’s nothing that we can do,” Sagnip said. “[For a parent] trying to get a foreign court to award custody, it’s very difficult and returns are rare.”

The Sean and David Goldman Act (H.R. 3212) would allow U.S. embassies to apply pressure in incremental phases to dissuade governments from ignoring international law and sheltering abductors.

“[This bill] provides a series of tools which vary in their severity, from mild to strong,” Sagnip said. “The State Department is able to start with a little pressure and then build the pressure [on foreign governments refusing to return abducted American children to their homes.]”

Those tools include a private diplomatic protest called a demarche, a public condemnation of the foreign government, the withholding of economic aid and, eventually, demands for the extradition of the abductor.

Goldman, who was reunited with his son after five years of heavy investment both financial and emotional, said the passage of the bill provides hope for parents facing the same struggle he did.

“It was a long road, nearly five years, thanks to a tremendous effort of Congressman Smith and his staff,” Goldman said. “It was a great thing to do. It was the right thing to do. It’s another step closer to reuniting families. Next step: the White House.”

For victims of international child abduction and their parents, Smith said the Sean and David Goldman Act represents a shift in U.S. policy that will benefit separated family members.

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“Many children and parents have tragically lost years separated from each other in violation of U.S. and international law,” Smith said. “They have missed birthdays, holidays, and family time that they can never get back. H.R. 3212 ensures that they will now receive significant help from the U.S. government in their fight to recover their children.”

According to Sagnip, the bill allows the State Department to use the leverage already at its disposal in international abduction cases — leverage that is invaluable to an individual parent who only has so many resources to expend.

“How can a parent in Rutherford, New Jersey … fight a battle that’s halfway across the world? How do they pay for it?” Sagnip said. “It’s a tremendous expense, it’s a tremendous undertaking, and this [bill] puts the State Department in their corner.”

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Parental Kidnapping – Now a Global Issue


May 27, 2013

Source: Boston Herald

On International Missing Children’s Day, marked May 25th, we remembered the thousands of missing children and the parents who grieve and plead for help. Since 2008, more than 7,000 American children have been abducted to a foreign country — not by a stranger, but by their other parent.

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Such children are at risk of serious emotional and psychological problems and may experience anxiety, eating problems, nightmares, mood swings, sleep disturbances, aggressive behavior, resentment, guilt and fearfulness.

Members of Congress have seen the lopsided battles our constituents face to bring their children home from a foreign jurisdiction. Michael Elias, a combat-injured Iraqi veteran from New Jersey, has not held his children since 2008, when his ex-wife used her Japanese consulate connections to abduct Jade and Michael Jr. in violation of New Jersey court orders. Japan has refused to return the children or prosecute the abductor.

Elias told Congress, “All my hopes and dreams for their future now lie in the hands of others. … I am begging our government to help not only my family, but hundreds of other heartbroken families as well, to demand the return of our American children who are being held in Japan.”

Colin Bower’s children, Noor and Ramsay, were abducted from their home in Boston to Egypt nearly four years ago by their mother — who had lost custody because of her drug use and psychological problems. The Egyptian government facilitated the abduction by issuing fraudulent Egyptian passports, providing passage on the government-owned airline, and by shielding the mother, who comes from a well-connected family, from any accountability or responsibility.

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At a recent hearing Bower noted the billions of dollars in U.S. assistance to Egypt and observed, “Regardless of whatever moral, fiscal, or political balance you use, providing uninterrupted aid to a partner that acts this way is quite simply wrong. If this is American foreign policy, it’s flawed and it isn’t working. We aren’t getting what we pay for.”

Tragically, the Obama administration has limited itself to diplomatic requests for the return of the children. In the words of Bernard Aronson, former assistant secretary of state of inter-American affairs, “a diplomatic request for which there is no real consequence for refusal is simply a sophisticated form of begging.”

It is time for a new approach. That is why we have introduced H.R. 1951, the Sean and David Goldman Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act of 2013, which will give the president powerful tools to motivate a country’s quick response for the return of abducted children.

If a country has 10 or more cases not being resolved in a timely manner, or the judiciary, or law enforcement, or other responsible entity is persistently failing to fulfill their obligations, the president can take action to aggressively advocate for our children’s return — such as denying certain assistance, canceling cultural exchanges, opposing international loans, or extraditing the abductor.

This bill creates the expectation of action — not just words — to bring every American child home. In the words of then-Senator and now Secretary of State John Kerry at the 2012 passage of a Senate resolution calling for the return of the Bower children, we must “remain focused like a laser beam until this father is reunited with his two boys,” and every other abducted American child comes home. We can, and must, do more than talk.

U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R) represents New Jersey’s 4th District.

 

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International parental child abductions rise with global migration


February 26, 2013

Source: TheStar.com

As cross-border relationships become more common, so do cases involving kids seized and taken to another country. Left-behind parents want changes to the law.
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Stephen Watkins and sons, Alexander and Christopher. Police believe the boys are in Poland.

When a grandfather was found guilty last year of helping his daughter abduct her two boys to Poland, history was made. It was Canada’s first criminal conviction involving international child abduction by a parent.

Outside the Newmarket court where 78-year-old Tadeusz Ustaszewski’s sentencing was taking place, a group of Canadian parents held up signs and photos of their missing children, hoping to draw public attention to the issue of cross-border child abductions by estranged spouses.

Frustrated by legal bureaucracy, countries indifferent to Canadian court orders, and what they say is scant support from the Canadian government, left-behind parents have launched their own advocacy group. They plan to campaign for changes in the law to better detect and prevent child abduction.

“People paint it as a custody matter, but really, these countries have signed the international treaties and do not comply with these treaties.”

STEPHEN WATKINS – FOUNDING MEMBER OF ICHAPEAU

So far, the group involves 13 families and 16 “lost” children. It is part of a growing movement in North America for stronger enforcement of the Hague Child Abduction Convention — a 32-year-old international treaty that deals with the return of children abducted by a non-custodial parent and transferred from one country to another.

“The fact is you have this melting pot of different nationalities. You date people of different nationalities, get married, have children — and they decide to go home,” said Stephen Watkins, a founding member of iCHAPEAU (International Child Harbouring & Abduction Prevention Enforcement Act Under-law).

“People paint it as a custody matter, but really, these countries have signed the international treaties and do not comply with these treaties.”

With the ease of global travel and explosion of Internet romances, the world has become smaller. Romantic relationships — and breakups — that span national borders have become more common.

These relationship breakdowns, often nasty for adults in the same locale, can be even more complicated when children and multiple government jurisdictions are involved.

A 2012 study by Nigel Lowe and Victoria Stephens at the Cardiff Law School in the United Kingdom found that the global number of Hague Convention applications to retrieve an abducted child had risen by 45 per cent since 2003.

According to a U.S. State Department report, the number of new international parental child abduction cases in the United States alone has doubled since 2006, from 642 to 1,135, with the majority of cases involving children taken to one of the convention’s 89 signatory countries.

But the child return rate is far from satisfactory. In 2009, the report said, only 436 children abducted to or wrongfully retained in other countries were returned to the U.S. Of these children, 324, or 74 per cent, were from a convention country.

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“The goal of the convention is to establish clearly defined procedures for the prompt return of children . . . to provide an effective deterrent to parents who contemplate abducting their children,” said the Report on Compliance with the Hague Convention.

“Unfortunately, current trends reflect a steady increase in the number of international parental child abduction cases and highlight the urgency of redoubling efforts to promote compliance with convention obligation and encourage additional nations to join it.”

A left-behind parent can apply through what’s known as the central authority of his or her country to have a wrongfully removed child returned to the place of “habitual residence.”

The parent must provide details of the case in the Hague Convention application, which will then be sent by the central authority to the foreign state to which the child was taken.

Once the application is received, the court in the receiving country must determine if the conditions set out for the child’s return are met and if any exceptions to the return of the child exist.

Canada does not maintain national statistics on the number of Hague Convention applications and number of child returns to the country, said Carole Saindon, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice, which oversees the central authority administration in Canada.

“It is important to note that a decision by a court not to order the return of a child does not mean that the convention is not being properly applied in that state,” Saindon said in an email.

“While a left-behind parent may not agree with the child leaving Canada, the situation does not necessarily constitute a wrongful removal or retention for the purposes of the Hague Convention.”

In instances where a left-behind parent is dissatisfied with the result, she said, the parent or the Canadian central authority can raise their concerns with the foreign central authority and attempt to resolve any issues.

However, “where a left-behind parent disagrees with the decision of a foreign court not to return his or her child, he or she needs to evaluate the matter in consultation with private legal counsel,” Saindon said.

The issue of international child abduction is not new, but it received global attention in 2008 with the case of Sean Goldman, the child at the centre of an international legal battle between his American father, David Goldman, and the family of his deceased Brazilian ex-wife, Bruna Bianchi Carneiro Ribeiro.

After winning his son back in 2009 with a favourable decision by the Brazilian Supreme Court, Sean’s father and his supporters, in the same year, established the Bring Sean Home Foundation, run by volunteers for the campaign to return internationally abducted children.

Most significantly, the foundation has been pushing for the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction, Prevention and Return Act (HR1940) — an inspiration for Watkins, whose sons, Christopher and Alexander, were taken to Poland in 2009 by their mother, Ustaszewski’s daughter, Edyta.

“The biggest reason the convention is largely inefficient is there are no penalties for non-compliance. There are no repercussions for not complying,” said Mark DeAngelis, the foundation’s executive director.

The bill, expected to be introduced to the U.S. Congress in 2013, proposes establishing an Office on International Child Abductions to promote measures to prevent abductions from the U.S., advocate for abducted children and assist left-behind parents in resolving their cases.

Watkins, of iCHAPEAU, said Canada should adopt a similar approach and penalize convention non-compliant nations by delaying or cancelling official visits and scientific and cultural exchanges; withdrawing Canadian development assistance; and restricting travel by their nationals.

“We need to impose sanctions against non-compliant countries,” said Watkins, adding that educating Canadian officials in child welfare and courts to flag at-risk cases is also key to abduction prevention.

Jeffery Morehouse of Bring Abducted Children Home, an advocacy group for American left-behind parents, agrees.

“We need to have an open public discussion of what’s going on,” he said from Washington. “We must step up and be vocal. Enough is enough. We are not going to condone the trafficking of children to a foreign country without recourse.”

More: The tales of four left-behind Canadian parents

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