According to the U.S. State Department, in 2014 there were international child abduction cases pending in over 120 countries. In that same year, 169 new child abductions to Mexico alone were reported. Fortunately, in 2014 over 370 abducted children from the U.S. were returned home from around the world.
Four ways to prevent an international abduction
While in some cases there is a legal mechanism for the return of a child victimized by parental child abduction, prevention of an international parental child abduction can spare the child from such a traumatic experience. There are several steps parents can take to decrease the chances that an intended abduction to a foreign country is completed.
• File for Custody. Having a formal custody order is the single most important measure a parent can take to prevent an abduction. With no custody order in effect, by default both parents have shared equal custody. As such, law enforcement responding to an alleged abduction is likely to advise the concerned parent that “this is a civil matter” and he or she should get a custody order. Once an order is in place, failure to comply with the terms of the order is a felony, and the police are more likely to assist in the recovery of the child.
• Abduction Prevention Measures. Texas law provides for protections from abductions when the court finds there is a credible evidence of a threat of international abduction. Such measures may include supervised visitation, passport restrictions, bond requirements for visitation, and orders requiring a parent to stay away from the child’s school.
• Restricting the Issuance of U.S. Passports. Normally, both parents must consent to the issuance of a U.S. passport for a minor child. If both parents do not appear in person to issue the passport, one parent may submit a signed document allowing for the issuance of a passport (DS-3053: Statement of Consent). To prevent against the use of a forged Statement of Consent, the State Department offers the Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program, which would notify the parent if an application for a passport is submitted on behalf of your child.
• Restricting the Issuance of Foreign Passports. Be aware that if one parent is a citizen of another country, your child may have dual nationality. Contact the embassy of that country and inquire about their passport requirements for minors. Some countries to not allow dual citizenship, but have travel documents that a parent can obtain for the consulate. India, for example, offers parents of Indian origin the opportunity to get an OCI (Overseas Citizenship of India) card, which gives them a visa to travel to India. Contacting the Indian consulate may serve to prevent the issuance of an OCI or at least obtain an alert if one is sought by the other parent.
When an International Parental Child Abduction has Occurred
If a child is abducted to a foreign country, the parent must go through a complicated procedure to ensure the swift and safe return of his or her child. Fortunately, a process for the return of abducted children exists through the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (commonly referred to as the Hague Convention). Not all countries are signatories to the Hague Convention (for a list of countries that are parties to the Hague convention, click here.
Effective advocacy on behalf of a parent whose child has been abducted requires tough lawyering, but a real command of the technical legal issues as well. When dealing with such difficult legal challenges, you do not want an attorney who is learning on the job. Our attorneys have secured the safe return of child being abducted to multiple foreign countries, including Mexico, Guatemala, and Iraq and have even served as consultants for attorneys unfamiliar with the complexities of international abduction cases.
The U.S. State Department’s Office on Children’s Issues
The National Central for Missing and Exploited Children