The Children In The Middle: A Perspective On Human Rights

One of the most exciting aspects of globalization is that it has changed the world into one large international neighborhood. We can develop relationships with people all around the globe and communicate instantly and inexpensively. Internet dating, which was once considered a little weird and potentially dangerous, is now a social norm. Technology has made it possible to romance someone half way around the world and has lead to more binational couples that have children together. Unfortunately, not all love affairs have fairy tale endings. When a parent decides to take his or her child and return to their home country, a destructive and contentious situation can result. International parental child abduction is not a new phenomenon, but its increasing frequency appears to be a by-product of globalization.

Nine-year-old Sean Richard Goldman is at the center of an international custody battle that has brought new, and much needed, attention to a gap in international law. Most countries view international parental child abduction as a civil matter between parents. This view irresponsibly ignores the burdens of the children who are caught in the middle of a disagreement between two adults. The 1980 Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is clear in its objective and intent of providing a speedy and efficient process for returning abducted children to their habitual place of residence. Unfortunately, the treaty is filled with bureaucratic loopholes, which leave important standards open for interpretation by each signatory country. These loopholes are the driving force behind the lengthy, monetarily and emotionally costly battles that surround international child custody disputes. The United States should take the lead and establish international parental child abduction as a human rights crime in order to encourage other countries to recognize the seriousness of this crime and its affects upon children.

In 2004 Sean Goldman's mom, Bruna Bianchi, took him from their home in New Jersey on what was supposed to be a two week vacation to her native Brazil. Upon arrival in Brazil, Bianchi informed Sean's father, David that she and her son would not return to the US. Bianchi then divorced Goldman in Brazil and married a prominent lawyer in Rio de Janeiro.

Sean's story is extraordinary and deserving of the media attention that it has received, but unfortunately his circumstance is not unique. According to the US State Department, in 2008 there were about 1,000 new cases of American children who were kidnapped by a parent and taken to another country. Basis for international parental child abduction as a human rights abuse is found in the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC). The CRC states that "A child whose parents reside in different States shall have the right to maintain on a regular bases... personal relations and direct contacts with both parents." According to the CRC and the Hague Convention it is illegal to transport a child across international borders for an insincere or illicit purpose. Intentionally depriving a child from a relationship with his or her parent to the extent that the child begins to think that they are unwanted by the left behind parent is clearly an illicit cause.

In 2008, I did a research project on international parental child abduction for a course on international law. A required class in the M.S. Global Affairs program at NYU's Center for Global Affairs, where I am a master's candidate. I developed an interest in this topic years ago when I saw Not Without My Daughter. A film about Betty Mahmoody's struggle to get both her and her daughter out of Iran after her husband took them there under false pretenses. My research paper focused on the disproportionate burden that women and children shoulder due to the gender biased application of the Hague Convention. 53% of children abducted by a family member were taken by their biological father, according to the National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway and Thrownaway Children report of 2002. There are gendered aspects that make the consequences of abduction more pronounced for women and children, particularly when a child is abducted to an Islamic state. The Goldman's case shows that these cases can be equally devastating for families whether the left behind parent is the mother or the father. The relationship that a child has with each parent is different but both parents are important to the development of a healthy child.

The missing voice in Sean Goldman's story is that of his mother, Bruna. Sadly, Bruna died in childbirth in 2008. We do not really know what motivated her to divorce her husband from afar and separate her child from his father. In recent interviews David Goldman has stated that he never consented to their divorce and that their relationship was intact when Bruna took Sean to Brazil. Five years on, David Goldman is still unable to bring his son back to the U.S. Sean is being cared for by his Brazilian stepfather.

The international community must realize that parental abduction is larger than any individual case, the ramifications stronger than any private family matter. The emotional and mental consequences of parental child abduction are extraordinarily detrimental to children. These cases should be treated as crimes against the human rights of the children that they involve.