Rep. Smith takes on child abduction

To ensure compliance with the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction by countries with which the United States enjoys reciprocal obligations, to establish procedures for the prompt return of children abducted to other countries, and for other purposes. (H.R. 1940, Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J.)

Status: Introduced Monday; referred to the House Foreign Affairs, Ways and Means, Financial Services, Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees.

It was fall 2008, and Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) rushed from the week’s last votes to the airport. But unlike his colleagues, who were heading to their districts, Smith boarded a plane to Brazil to help David Goldman with what sounds like a simple task: to see his son Sean.

Yet Goldman was in the middle of a struggle to bring Sean back to the U.S. after his mom, a Brazilian national, took him back to her home country without Goldman’s consent, a crime classified under the Hague Convention as international child abduction. Goldman tried to get Sean back, but the Brazilian government wouldn’t cooperate.

Smith first heard of Goldman’s case while watching “Dateline NBC.” The congressman’s wife urged him to get involved, and the next day, Goldman was in one of Smith’s New Jersey offices, telling the congressman the full account.

“From that moment on, he pledged his support in whatever capacity possible,” Goldman said.

The story has a happy ending for Goldman and his son. After Smith accompanied him to Brazil twice, helping cut through bureaucratic red tape, meeting with officials and demanding action, Goldman brought Sean home in December 2009. But the two continue to work together to make sure other “left-behind” parents, as they’re called, get the necessary support to repatriate their internationally abducted children.

On Monday, Smith introduced a bill that would help American parents get their children back. Under the legislation, the president could use 18 different actions — up to economic sanctions — if a Hague Convention country doesn’t assist in the return of the abducted child.

Goldman testified at a hearing Tuesday before Smith’s Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights to ask Congress to pass the bill.

In an interview with The Hill, Smith said there’s very little country-to-country accountability when it comes to the abduction agreement in the Hague Convention, and this bill would solve that problem.

Sean turned 11 years old Wednesday, and Goldman said every day with his son is precious. But Goldman, who was once a professional model and now runs a sport fishing company out of Monmouth County, N.J., said he will continue to advocate for parents who are feeling as helpless as he once did. He said there are thousands of American children who are the victims of international abduction and who have yet to return to the U.S.

Without Smith’s help, Goldman said, “I might still be fighting today to bring my son home. Having him coming down there really made an impression on the Brazilian government, knowing that they just couldn’t keep the whole story suppressed.”