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US 'left-behind parents' seek help to get kids back

25 may 2011, 16:38
Eli is a little boy packs a powerful hug, but hasn't given one to his mother for more than a year, AFP reports.

Eli last year was taken to Turkey by his father, completely blindsiding his mother, Sara Edwards, one of America's "left-behind" parents.

On the eve of US National Missing Children's Day, which the United States marked Wednesday, Edwards testified before US lawmakers, telling them in an airless room of her almost hopeless quest to get Eli back.

"Eli gives the most amazing bear hugs but I have not held him since March 4 last year when my husband took him to Turkey," Edwards told a hearing of the House Subcommittee on on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights.

"Every day I wonder if he is thinking about me and missing his mother the same way I am thinking about him and missing him," she said, repeatedly interrupting her testimony to quell tears.

Sage was taken to Mexico by his mother when he was one, his father Carlos Bermudez said.

"In June 2008, my wife went to Arizona with my son for what was supposed to be a two-day visit, but once there, she turned off her cellphone and only sent me occasional emails," Bermudez told the hearing.

A software engineer, Bermudez traced the origin of his wife's emails to Mexico and began legal proceedings to have his son returned to the United States under the Hague Convention, an international agreement that requires the prompt return of children to their country of "habitual residence."

That was three years ago. Since then, Bermudez has been through 13 hearings and tens of thousands of dollars but has got nowhere in bringing home Sage, largely because the Hague Convention, an international agreement that requires that kidnapped children be promptly returned home, has no teeth, he said.

Navy Captain Paul Toland's wife took their child to Japan when the little girl was an infant. Shortly afterwards, the mother committed suicide.

"I'm Erika's only living parent and I've had no access to her for eight years," Toland told AFP.

He described Japan as "one of the worst countries in the world" for returning abducted children.

"The State Department doesn't have a single case of a Japanese court ordering the return of a child. When they're abducted to Japan, they're gone forever," he said.

Japan is not a signatory of the Hague Convention, but said last week that it would join the international agreement on child abduction.

"The question is, do they ever intend to comply? It seems to me they're signing it just to get international pressure off their backs. They really need to sign it with the intent to cooperate and facilitate the return of children," Toland said.

"Success is not defined by Japan signing the convention. It's defined by children coming back to the United States."

Children like Eli, Erika and Sage are "held in violation of US and international law," said the left-behind parents' unofficial spokesman David Goldman, who is one of a rare few parents who are able to bring their children home.

Goldman fought for years to bring his son Sean come home from Brazil, where he was taken by his mother, who later died there.

"Other than my son, we are aware of no other child returned to the US by Brazil under the Hague Convention," said Goldman, who ended his testimony by reading aloud a letter addressed to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from the left-behind parents of 117 abducted US children.

The State Department's Office for Children's Issues is responsible for enforcing the Hague Convention on behalf of US children.

"We and our families are devastated -- emotionally and financially -- by the loss of our children and seek your assistance in ensuring that the US government is exercising all lawful means necessary to return these American children to their home country and reunite them with us," he read.

"Our children have been stolen from us. It is our legal and moral right to be a part of their lives."

By Karin Zeitvogel

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