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Pfund Says State Department Unable To Do Much In Custody Cases

July 19, 1985

WASHINGTON (AP) _ There is little the United States can do to help in child custody cases when youngsters are abducted and taken out of the country by one of the parents, the State Department told Congress on Friday.

Basically, all that can be done is to locate the child and try to go through any existing legal channels to seek his or her return, said Peter H. Pfund, the department’s assistant legal adviser for private international law.

Pfund was testifying before the Senate Judiciary juvenile justice subcommittee, whose chairman, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., called the session to spotlight the problem involving one of his constituents.

Rebecca Hickman of Pittsburgh followed Pfund by telling about the kidnapping last Dec. 7 of her daughter, Mariam Ruth Zamani, to Iran.

Her former husband, Hossein Sadeghi Zamani, lost custody of the child in a court fight last October but he abducted the girl from her nursery school six weeks later ″and was out of the country with her in a few hours,″ said Mrs. Hickman.

She has written to government officials, including President Reagan and Secretary of State George Shultz, seeking help in returning her child.

Pfund said his department is unable to do much.

″The limitations on Department of State action derive from the general constraints inherent in the notion of national sovereignty,″ he said.

In addition, he said, American court orders and custody decrees are not enforceable outside the country, even though the documents can be used by foreign courts.

The problem is increasing, he said. Currently, there are 1,769 such abduction cases, including 1,051 which have occurred in the past two years.

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