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Child Abduction Is Child Abuse

A silent plague is afflicting our country. As if out of a horror movie, our children are disappearing one by one from our communities, families, and homes—1,492 disappeared in 2010 alone. More than 2,200 are missing today, right now, perhaps from your city, certainly from your state.

Like a casualty by friendly fire, the fact that the kidnappers are family members and former spouses only compounds the harm. 

International child abduction rips children from their lives, taking them to a foreign land and alienating them from a left behind parent who loves them and whom they have a right to know. Their childhood is disrupted, in limbo, or sometimes in hiding as the taking parent seeks to evade the law, or to conjure legal cover for their immoral actions.

Abducted children often lose their relationship with their mom or their dad, half of their identity and half of their culture. They are at risk of serious emotional and psychological problems—the result of “parental alienation.” They may also experience anxiety, eating problems, nightmares, mood swings, sleep disturbances, aggressive behavior, resentment, guilt and fearfulness. As adults, they may struggle with identity issues, their own personal relationships and parenting.

We must call it what it is. Child abduction is child abuse.

While the international community has recognized the harms and horrors of international child abduction, and established the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction in 1980 for the deterrence of abductors and prompt return of children, American parents have consistently experienced multi-year waits and costly legal battles for the return of their children—if the children are returned at all. Less than 40 percent of children are returned from countries that have signed the Convention.

I experienced this firsthand in the fight to bring Sean Goldman home from Brazil in 2009. Sean’s return was five and a half years in the making. At my invitation, his tenacious father, David, testified on Capitol Hill and said, “I lived in a world of despondency and desperation, with a searing pain throughout my entire being. Everywhere I turned I saw an image of my abducted child.”

This was the case despite the fact that Brazil was a signatory to the Convention.

And from some countries which have not signed the Hague Convention, children are never returned. Such is the case with our friend and ally Japan, where more than 173 American children are currently held in separation from their American parent. 

I know of no case where Japan has issued and enforced an order to return a kidnapped American child. 

At another recent hearing I chaired--and broadcast on C-Span--members of Congress heard from Michael Elias, a combat-injured Iraqi veteran from New Jersey. Mr. Elias told of his anguish after his ex-wife, Mayumi Nakamura, used her Japanese consulate connections to abduct Jade and Michael Jr.—after the New Jersey court had ordered surrender of passports and joint custody.

She told Mr. Elias, “My country [Japan] will protect me.” She was right. Although Japan is reportedly prosecuting her for abusing her consulate connections, Japan has refused to return the children. Moreover, even if Japan does sign the Hague Convention, it will not cover current cases like that of Mr. Elias, or the 171 other children.

The wholesale loss of our children to any country is unconscionable. A less than 40 percent return rate for Hague Convention countries is unacceptable.

Our children must come home.

To that end, I've introduced the International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act of 2011, a bill to seriously monitor and hold nations to account via 18 sanctions and penalties if they demonstrate a pattern of non-cooperation in resolving individual cases. 

A decade ago, I authored the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TPVA) to combat both sex and labor trafficking. That law holds countries to account if they are complicit in human trafficking, a model I've incorporated into the new child abduction bill.

For countries that have not signed the Hague Convention, like Japan, the United State should immediately negotiate a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to ensure that the current cases are resolved and left behind parents are not left behind a second time—this time by treaty promises that will not apply to them and their children.

Children have the right to know and be loved by both of their parents. We must find the collective will to bring them home, and end the child abuse of child abduction.

Republican Chris Smith represents New Jersey's 4th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.