International child abduction remains an issue despite legislation

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In 2004, when Sean Goldman of Monmouth County was 4 years old, his mother, Bruna Bianchi, brought him to her native Brazil and subsequently announced she would not be returning to the United States with the boy.

That is when David Goldman launched what turned into a five-year fight to bring his son home.

In 2008, Bianchi died in childbirth in Brazil and her parents declined to return Sean to his father.

With the assistance of individuals such as Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Patricia Apy, who is an international family law attorney, Sean was returned to Monmouth County in September 2009.

In 2014, the Sean and David Goldman Child Abduction and Prevention and Return Act was signed into law by President Barack Obama to help return American children who had been abducted by a birth parent and brought to another country.

Despite its passage, the law does not guarantee a child will be returned to the United States if the foreign country to which a child has been taken does not comply with the legislation.

As a result, a father in Manalapan now finds himself in David Goldman’s shoes.

Ravi Parmar’s son, Reyansh Parmar, who is 10 years old, was abducted by his mother and taken to India in 2012. Parmar has been fighting for his son’s return ever since.

The Goldman Act, which notes actions that could be made toward a child’s return, includes assisting abandoned parents during an abduction and increasing interagency coordination in preventing international child abduction by convening a working group of presidentially appointed and Senate confirmed officials from the Department of State, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice.

The law is not perfect, Smith explained during a press conference in Red Bank on Aug. 8.

The press conference, which included David Goldman, Sean Goldman, Apy and Parmar, marked the fifth anniversary of the Goldman Act.

In his remarks, Smith said there has been a consistent decrease in the number of international child abductions since 2008. He said “offending countries” such as Japan may refuse to comply with the provisions of the law that aid in an abducted child’s return to the United States.

“In his letter of transmittal of (the Goldman act), Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said … (nine) countries demonstrated a pattern of noncompliance … The annual report coupled with the Goldman Act also provides American judges accurate information and country-specific charts which allow judges to access country risks in the cases they adjudicate,” the congressman said.

“… (The judges can also determine) if it is safe for a child to travel to Brazil or Japan (for example). Much progress has been made, however, much needs to be done,” Smith said.

According to the Goldman Act, there are eight sanctions the U.S. government can take if a foreign country refuses to return an abducted American child to the United States.

The sanctions include public condemnation; the withdrawal, limitation or suspension of U.S. security assistance; and the withdrawal, limitation or suspension of U.S. development assistance, according to the legislation.

Speaking on behalf of Parmar, Smith said the Manalapan father “still yearns to be reunited with his son” and believes his son “has been robbed of his (father’s) love.”

David Goldman, who said 12,000 American children have been abducted by a birth parent in the last 10 years, said a speedy resolution – which entails the abducted child returning to the United States – is necessary before a child “ages out” and the case is closed.

“Hopefully, with this law and the punitive measures we can place on (offending countries),  we will get results and children won’t suffer from being torn from the life they once knew,” Goldman said.

Speaking about his own experience, Sean, who is now 19, said his mother would often “skew his perception” and tell him lies about his father in the United States.

Smith said Sean experienced parental alienation, which is the psychological manipulation of a child into showing unwarranted fear, disrespect or hostility toward a parent.

“As a young child, you don’t really fully understand what is going on … As I got older, I was able to see what happened. It’s crazy what people will do to win,” Sean said, adding that it took him one week after returning home to call his father “dad.”

Parmar, who helped found the organization Bring Our Kids Home, said India does not recognize that parents can abduct children. He said India, in relation to other foreign countries, has the highest number of child abductions from New Jersey.

Bring Our Kids Home is a parent-led organization seeking the immediate return of children who have been kidnapped from the United States and brought to India, according to the organization’s website.

“After three or four years of trying to fight the case by myself, I realized there are a lot of other parents in my situation,” Parmar said. “I didn’t know for a year that I had to report (my child’s abduction) …We need to spread awareness at the minimum, but we also need to have the United States government play a more robust role in securing the return” of abducted children.

Apy said child abduction by a parent is abuse.

“Sean and David put human faces on something that was very difficult for most Americans to grasp,” the attorney said. “… the (Goldman Act) provides a framework so no parent has to suddenly become their own secretary of state and negotiate a resolution between countries.”

Apy explained that India does not acknowledge the Goldman Act. She said some leaders in India have no intention of becoming a treaty signatory and said such intervention “requires diplomatic pressure.”

Gov. Phil Murphy plans to visit India in September. Apy said child abduction to India should “be high on his agenda” to discuss with foreign leaders after noting that seven children from New Jersey were abducted to India in 2018.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, federal law prohibits a parent from removing a child from the United States or retaining a child in another country with the intent to obstruct another parent’s custodial rights.