The Disturbing Issue of International Child Abduction

Child Watch of North America
January 30, 2015

According to statistics available from the U.S State Department's Compliance Reports 2011 through 2013, the number of cases of children being abducted from the US and taken abroad has decreased dramatically since 2011. More than 702 new cases involving 1004 children abducted from the US by a parent were reported in 2013, compared with a little over 941 cases involving 1,367 children in 2011. Although this trend sounds promising for the United States, children abducted from other countries and brought to the United States rose, with almost 364 new cases involving 518 children reported in 2013 compared to 256 new cases involving 361 children in 2011.

International parental child abduction is a global problem affecting several thousand children each year. The primary effort intended to protect children from the harmful effects of their wrongful removal or retention across frontiers is the Hague Convention signed by several international countries on October 25, 1980. The treaty was enacted to enforce the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The Hague treaty, which now has 93 States Parties, does not aim to adjudicate on issues of custody but gives effect to the principle that ordinarily an abducted child should be returned promptly to his / her home State. Once sent back the child's local authorities can determine where and with whom the child should live. In addition, The Hague Child Abduction Convention is also designed to secure protection for rights of access by the searching parent.

In 1999, in an effort to promote mutual understanding, consistent interpretation and effective operation of the Hague Treaty, the Permanent Bureau of the Hague Conference on Private International Law established The International Child Abduction Database. This database is referred to as INCADAT and makes leading decisions concerning the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention accessible, as well as other decisions relevant to international child abduction. INCADAT is being continually updated and is used by judges, Central Authorities, legal practitioners, researchers and others interested in this rapidly developing branch of law.

In essence, The Hague Abduction Convention is an international agreement that can help a parent whose child has been taken abroad in violation of their parental rights. The United States is currently partners with 93 countries under the Convention.

According to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abductions, an international child abduction occurs when one parent wrongfully removes a child to a foreign country or retains the child in a foreign country and refuses to permit the child to return to his habitual residence. It’s not an abduction if a child is taken with the consent of the left-behind parent.

It is a common occurrence for one parent to try and trick the other parent to let them take their child on a vacation outside of the country. In a recent case brought to us at our organization Child Watch of North America, a father was ordered to turn over his passport by the presiding Judge who had refused to allow him to take the child on a vacation to Germany. The father did not give his passport to his attorney as ordered by the Judge, instead, he left for Germany and is using his home country as a shield to conceal the child from the mother. The Judge relied on expert testimony from one of our legal consultants about the risks of allowing him to return to Germany and made the prudent decision. Unfortunately, the father was able to conceal his intentions from everyone and moved forward with his plans to abduct his child. The mother, who cannot afford to hire an attorney in German, is now dependent on the Hague Treaty to help reunite her with her child.

What can a parent do to protect themselves from this type of scenario? Here are some tips from our experts at Child Watch of North America.

If you are separated from your spouse and international abduction is a concern, a parent with the right to custody or visitation of a child should ask the State Department to “flag” any attempt to use the child’s passport.

The concerned parent should register with the Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program, to alert them if the other parent applies for a US passport. This does not prevent a parent from applying for a passport from a foreign country, if eligible.
If the concerned parent suspects an abduction is about to occur, he or she can seek emergency relief from a judge to pick up the child. They can also contact the State Department Office of Children Issues, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, immigration and state and federal authorities and airlines to detain the abducting parent before leaving or upon entry.

For anyone seeking a divorce in an international marriage should make sure they have a custody decree that addresses Hague considerations and requires the foreign parent to post a significant bond before international travel.

On August 9, 2014, President Obama signed into law the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act. This Act was based on the abduction of Sean Goldman by his Brazilian mother and whose father David Goldman overcame all the obstacles and was reunited with his son after 5 years. This Brazil abduction and custody case over 9-year-old Sean Goldman spotlighted the growing problem of international child abduction.

This new Law will assist thousands of American families struggling to bring their abducted child back home to the United States. The Law will help make the federal government be more effective for children and families. With the enactment of the ‘Goldman Act’ the State Department gets new tools to effectively engage the fight and work several fronts to get abducted children back. While exit controls would not have prevented the Brazilian abduction case of Sean Goldman, because the mother tricked the father into believing she was going back to Brazil for a short vacation, exit controls can still be very effective in preventing many other cases.

Information provided by Don Wood, Founder of Childwatch of North America. Child Watch of North America is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated since its incorporation in 1993 to the prevention and recovery of missing, abused, and exploited children. Providing awareness and safety education to children, teens, pre-teens, and parents is the foundation for our goal to prevent abductions and victimization. Through our Child Watch division, our organization has already distributed millions of free photo ID cards and Child Watch Investigators have assisted already in the recovery of over 256 missing children. Child Watch of North America works with local and national law enforcement agencies and have been recognized as a critical resource in the recovery effort. Child Watch of North America depends on funding from the generosity of individual and corporate donations, fund-raising events, promotions, and in-kind support of services and products. All donations made to Child Watch are fully tax-deductible, as applicable by law. Don Wood can be contacted at

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Childwatch of North America is a division of CRISIS RELIEF NETWORK - Working with children and Families in Crisis since 1993. The mission continues under one name since we have started with Childwatch of North America in 1993, as we have added constantly division services to help to support also war veterans with better alternative healthcare. Our objectives are to provide services and therapy to families in trauma and to service men and women living with the invisible wounds of war including combat-related stress, major depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

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