Smith Introduces the Philips-Davenport International Child Abduction Return Act

News Item

A new source of hope for left behind parents
Smith Introduces the Philips-Davenport International Child Abduction Return Act

Washington, Jul 28, 2017
Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), author of the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act (P.L 113-150), introduced an innovative new bill that will automatically remove tariff benefits for countries that are found to be out of compliance in returning children home—the “Bindu Philips and Devon Davenport International Child Abduction Return Act of 2017.”
“Bindu Philips fought valiantly in India for over eight years for the return of her abducted twin sons, only to be given the incessant delays in India’s courts and little support from the Obama Administration,” said Smith, Chair of the House panel on global human rights. “Just recently, she was finally granted a short visit with her children in India, but the children’s father marred the time with harassment and monitoring, refusing to let the children and mother leave a hotel for 7 days.
“Devon Davenport has had a return order for his daughter, Nadia, from Brazil since 2009. He has won every single one of the 24 appeals against the order—but Brazil still will not enforce its own return order.
“Shockingly, 11 of the 13 countries found to be non-compliant in the annual Goldman Report by the U.S. State Department in the return of abducted American children are still receiving billions of dollars in tariff exemptions under the Generalized System of Preferences. We must cease rewarding countries that aid abductors. When is enough finally enough?”
In 2016, 629 American children were taken from the United States by one parent without the consent of the other, often in direct violation of valid United States court orders, United States criminal law and the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The Obama Administration’s refusal to apply sanctions against countries that fail to return abducted children has led to a rate of return of only 16%.
“For years, the U.S. government response to abductions has been an engraved invitation to abductors,” said Smith. “Abductors have an 84% chance of no penalty for ripping their child from home and family in the United States. It is my hope and expectation that this year, the State Department will begin to act more decisively on behalf of American families so that more children come home.”
The new bill amends the Generalized System of Preferences, a trade program designed to promote economic growth in the developing world through duty free entry for some products, so that any country named as non-compliant in the prompted resolutions of abductions would lose trade benefits granted by the United States. The new legislation ensures that the loss of trade preference would be automatic and not dependent on the Executive Branch applying sanctions.
Abducted children in a foreign country are often blocked from any contact with the American parent, losing half of their family and heritage.  Such children are also at grave risk of serious emotional and psychological problems. Many such children experience anxiety, eating problems, nightmares, mood swings, aggressive behavior, resentment and fear. Every day the abduction continues only compounds these harms.
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Source:  “Smith Introduces the Philips-Davenport International Child Abduction Return Act”, News Item, Congressman Chris Smith’s website, published on 28 July 2017

 

Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction – 2015

The US State Department’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction was published recently. At page 26 the report said the following as regards the position of Japan:

As an example of the USCA’s policy of promoting Convention partnership worldwide, the USCA spent more than a decade actively pressing Japan to ratify the Convention. The USCA maintained close contact with the government of Japan in 2012 and 2013 as Japan’s parliament prepared and passed necessary legislation to implement the Convention. On April 1, 2014, the Convention entered into force between the United States and Japan. Since April, the USCA has developed a close and productive working relationship with the Japan Central Authority.

The USCA continues to urge Japanese action on non-Convention cases. There are still more than 50 non-Convention cases of abduction to Japan, all of which predate Japan’s ratification of the Convention. Many of these have been pending for years. In these cases, parents are not able to seek return of their children under the Convention; however, as of December 31, 2014, U.S. left-behind parents have filed 31 Convention access applications. Of the few cases of which the USCA is aware in which parents have sought redress in Japanese family courts, none have resulted in either meaningful parental access or the return of the child to the United States.

The USCA and the U.S. diplomatic mission in Japan work with the Japanese government to bring about the return of abducted children to the United States or to obtain parental access. The Department’s efforts have included individual requests through diplomatic channels seeking Japanese assistance in enforcing U.S. parents’ rights and in persuading taking parents to provide access; exchanges and training for lawyers and officials; and outreach and public diplomacy efforts. The Department continues to encourage the government of Japan to remove obstacles that parents still face in gaining access to or return of their children. Meanwhile, the Japanese government is developing its own resources to address issues related to child abduction since joining the Convention. Many of these initiatives, such as promoting mediation and alternative dispute resolution methods as a way for parents to reach agreement, using videoconferencing to foster communication between parents and children, and engaging in public outreach activities, may assist in non-Convention cases as well. Despite these encouraging steps, during the reporting period almost all of these non-Convention cases remained unresolved.

The report, at pages 26 to 27, also contained the following passages as regards the important role of airlines in these issues:

Many international parental child abductions take place via international airline flights, although the USCA has no specific data on this issue. Commercial airline practices to prevent IPCA were thoroughly reviewed by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in a June 2011 report, “Commercial Aviation, Program Aimed at High Risk Parent Abductors Could Aid in Preventing Abductions” to the House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on Aviation, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. This detailed report addresses the policies and measures airlines currently have in place, possible solutions, and appropriate role of commercial airliners in preventing IPCA.

In addition to the recommendations of the GAO report, the USCA also recommends the following best practices for airlines to aid in preventing IPCA:

1   Support and Cooperate with Law Enforcement Efforts: As private sector entities, airlines in the United States do not have the authority to enforce court and custody orders.

The airline’s main role related to the prevention of IPCA is cooperating, upon request, with law enforcement officials.   Federal and state law enforcement entities have the main role in preventing

IPCA and airlines should work to support law enforcement agencies in this role.

2   Know How To Report: Commercial airline employees should be made aware of the USCA’s contact information so that IPCA cases reported to the airlines, either by a parent, attorney, court, law enforcement officer, or other stakeholder may be appropriately referred for immediate assistance.

 

A report from The Washington Times published on the 4th anniversary last month of my own son’s abduction to Japan highlights the fact that the Sean and David Goldman Act mechanisms have been “under-used” by the US Administration. These annual reports were a central part of the legislative regime. Whilst welcome in themselves, it has yet to be seen what difference these reports, and the other mechanisms, will make in terms of preventing or putting right child abductions.

The State Department should do more to address international abductions (Washington Post editorial)

The State Department should do more to address international abductions

The Washington Post

August 12, 2015

EVER SINCE his ex-wife wrongly took his son, now 11, to Japan five years ago, Jeffery Morehouse has been fighting for the boy’s return. Mr. Morehouse had been recognized as the sole custodial parent in Washington state, and a Japanese court affirmed that the ruling applies in Japan. Nonetheless, there has been no reunion, no visits, no contact of any sort.

Mr. Morehouse sadly is not alone. Nearly 1,000 children are abducted each year from the United States by a parent and taken to a foreign country; fewer than half of them ever come home. Recognizing the need to help the American parents left behind and bereft, Congress last year gave the State Department more tools to deal with abduction cases by passing the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act. The measure aims to put teeth in U.S. diplomacy by identifying a series of actions — increasing in severity from official protests to suspension of assistance — the State Department may take in bringing abducted children home or getting their cases fairly adjudicated.

A key requirement of the law is that the State Department compile and release an annual report to quantify unresolved cases and identify problem countries. But release of the first report revealed shortcomings in the State Department’s willingness to hold foreign governments to account. Recent hearings held by Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.), who sponsored the Goldman act, spotlighted what he called major gaps, even misleading information, in the report.

Countries were listed as having zero pending abduction cases even when there were cases that had been discussed in previous hearings and the State Department was involved with affected parents. Most notable, as Mr. Smith pointed out, was that in the key section of the report Japan was recorded as having no unresolved cases when there are more than 50 outstanding. The State Department gave Japan a pass for signing on last year to the Hague Convention that governs cross-border child custody disputes, not cataloguing the prior cases. That, of course, is of no help to parents such as Mr. Morehouse.

State Department officials acknowledged the report had gaps; it “did not meet all expectations,” said Susan Jacobs, the department’s special adviser for children’s issues. After Mr. Smith conducted two hearings on the matter, the department revised its report, acknowledging the unresolved cases in Japan. But Mr. Smith said the law demands more than scorekeeping. “With more accurate data reported, it is incumbent upon the Administration to make the other critical adjustments,” he said in a statement, “such as naming Japan along with the 22 other ‘non-compliant’ countries that are now subject to a strong response by the State Department.”

These reports are not academic exercises. They provide guidance to family court judges and parents assessing the risk of abduction in a child’s travel, and they inform congressional decisions about foreign assistance. If the State Department fails to call things as they are, it sends a message that nothing really needs to change after all.

Read more about this topic:

The Post’s View: Give parents more tools in international abduction cases

Five myths about missing children

Source:  “The State Department should do more to address international abductions”, The Washington Post (editorial), 12 August 2015

Subcommittee Hearing: The Goldman Act to Return Abducted American Children: Reviewing Obama Administration Implementation | House Committee on Foreign Affairs – Ed Royce, Chairman

Subcommittee Hearing: The Goldman Act to Return Abducted American Children: Reviewing Obama Administration Implementation | House Committee on Foreign Affairs – Ed Royce, Chairman.

America’s Abducted Kids Get No Help From Japan

America’s Abducted Kids Get No Help From Japan

June 16, 2015 1:40 p.m. ET

The Wall Street Journal

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.

Japan_Obama_Abduction

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.

japanese child

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.

Japanese-American-Flag1

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.

Source:  “America’s Abducted Kids Get No Help From Japan”, Chris Smith, The Wall Street Journal, 16 June 2015