International parental abduction is a growing problem. Since the late 1970s, the United States Department of State has processed more than 8000 cases of American children abducted to foreign countries by a parent. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a U.S.-based non-governmental organization that helps track missing children, reports that it currently has over 1100 active cases of American children being wrongfully retained abroad. And the Center is providing technical assistance on another 177 cases.
Each abducted child leaves behind a circle of suffering people – a mother or a father, grandparents, siblings, relatives and friends. For the abducted children, it means separation from those nearest and dearest to them. It also means, in many cases, being forced to adapt to an entirely different culture, language, religious faith, and national identity.
The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Parental Abduction provides a legal process for parents seeking the return of or access to their child. Sixty-eight countries are currently Convention partners with the United States. They are obligated to return an abducted child below the age of 16 if application is made within one year of the abduction or retention abroad. A court may refuse to order the child's return only if there is a grave risk of harm to the child, or if the child objects to being returned – in cases where the child is of sufficient age and maturity. The process is far from perfect, but it offers the best hope of resolving child abduction cases.
The International Parental Kidnapping Act of 1993 makes it a federal crime to remove a child from the U.S. or retain a child outside the U.S. with intent to obstruct the lawful exercise of parental rights. All 50 states make parental kidnapping a serious crime.
The United States calls on other nations to cooperate in ending the tragedy of parental abduction. It urges all countries that have not ratified the Hague Convention to do so. And it calls on those countries that are parties to ensure that their courts and agencies implement the convention effectively and consistently. Child custody should be decided, not by kidnapping, but by a process of law.