International Parental Child Abduction
Abductions of children by their parents are one of the most challenging types of missing children cases. Such abductions are sometimes perceived by local authorities as civil matters – and not criminal actions – and may not be rigorously investigated as the children involved are not believed to be at risk. This is a serious misconception and one of the main obstacles to the recovery of these children, who are at risk emotionally and sometimes physically.
Parents who suspect the other parent may take a child out of the country without legal permission can take preventative measures to minimize the likelihood of abduction. Parents should make sure a custody order is in place that indicates the rights of each parent to the child as well as the right to take the child out of the country. This not only helps prevent a parent from taking a child out of the country without permission, but also assists if an international abduction occurs.
The Hague Convention of 25 October 1980 on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (1980 Hague Convention) provides one mechanism left-behind parents can use to seek the return of their child. The 1980 Hague Convention outlines procedures that provide for the quick (and voluntary) return of a child to his or her country of habitual residence. To date, 95 countries have signed on to the 1980 Hague Convention. Each of these countries has a Central Authority, an agency that helps to: locate wrongfully removed or retained children; initiate proceedings to return the child, including helping left-behind parents to submit the necessary documents/paperwork; and arrange for the child’s return. An International Network of Hague Judges also is available to provide technical assistance to judges who are new to issues related to the 1980 Hague Convention.
In March 2010, the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children, the Hague Conference on Private International Law and the U.S. Department of State jointly hosted the International Judicial Conference on Cross-Border Family Relocation (Judicial Conference) to address the complexities of international family relocation in a world of international mobility of individuals and families. More than 50 family law judges – from countries that are both signatories and non-signatories to the 1980 Hague Convention – and other experts from around the world participated in the Judicial Conference, which ultimately resulted in the “Washington Declaration on International Family Relocation,” a document aimed at reshaping the international judicial community’s perspective on this serious and growing challenge.
Another valuable tool in bringing resolution to cases involving international parental abduction is mediation. If both parents are willing to discuss the custody of the child, mediation can be used as an alternative to adjudication to reach an agreement that is considered to be in the best interests of the child. In Europe, for instance, Missing Children Europe has launched the Cross-Border Network of Mediators, which works to prevent victimization of children and promote peaceful solutions for adults who are going through divorce and/or custody/visitation disputes.
For more information about preventative measures, please contact your country’s Central Authority, law enforcement or other designated organization working on parental abductions.