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International Child Abduction Facts

Parental child abduction cases are, unfortunately, a factor to consider following a separation or divorce, particularly when relations between the parents are acrimonious. Child abduction cases, particularly across international borders, are complex and extremely time-sensitive. Here are  some facts you should know if you’re facing such a case.

“Desiring to protect children internationally from the harmful effects of their wrongful removal or retention…as well as to secure protection for rights of access.”

–Hague Abduction Convention, Preamble

International child abduction happens for a number of reasons. Child abduction can be a very frightening experience to the parents involved and of course to the children. International parental child abduction is an act of illegally taking a child from their home usually by one of the parents across international borders; but it can also be done by an acquaintance or another member of the family.

International child abduction is actually on the rise and many investigation offices have open cases in all 80 countries the Hague Convention applies to. Here’s what you need to know about this growing problem. 


Firstly, what is The Hague Convention? The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is the main international agreement that covers international parental child abduction. It provides a process through which a parent can seek to have their child returned to their home country.

A number of countries around the globe have joined a treaty called the Hague Convention. This multilateral treaty was developed by the Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH) and concluded on October 25, 1980, entering into force on December 1, 1983.

According to the Convention, the removal or retention of a child is “wrongful” whenever it breaches custody rights attributed to a person or any other body. If, at the time of removal or retention, those rights were exercised. Even if a parent already has legal custody of a child, the Convention is needed. U.S. court orders may not be recognized in other countries, and sovereign nations cannot interfere with each other’s legal systems, judiciaries, or law enforcement.


The Convention’s framework allows countries to help one another find solutions for difficult custody cases where a child is abducted. This doesn’t rely on the immigration status or nationality of the child. In certain situations, a child may be wrongfully detained in another country, where they are not a resident. Violations of custodial rights happen when the child is wrongfully removed from their habitual home and now lives in a foreign country.

The Central Authority must do the following:

  • Be the point of contact for parents and children in international child custody cases.
  • Help locate abducted children.
  • Encourage solutions that work for both parents.
  • Submit documents as part of the application are admissible in courts in partner countries.

Presenting a custody order is not needed to prove that a parents custodial rights were violated when the child was taken from their country; this can be proven by showing proof of parenthood or marriage. When a child is returned to his/her habitual residence, it does not depend on the immigration status/or nationality of a child or his or her parents.

Family Abductions are More Common than you Think

When parents report that their children have been abducted or retained outside of the United States, country officers inform them of potential options and provide resources to help them seek the return of, or access to, their children. 

Some years, family abductions make up as much as 90% of abductions that occur, especially by parents. This usually happens in homes where the parents are separated, divorced, or estranged and is more common in lower-income households and during custody disputes. 

If your child wasn’t taken by a family member, the odds are that it was done by someone you know. 

A Fraction of 1% of Child Abductions is Total Strangers

About 100 children a year are abducted by total strangers as you hear on the news, so it’s exceedingly rare for a child to disappear this way. While this is the rarest, it is also the least likely that your child will come home if they are taken by a total stranger. Out of the approximately 100 kids a year that are taken this way, only 50 come back.

In 2020, country officers responded to 157 initial inquiries in which parents sought information and resources regarding parental abductions, but did not proceed with providing complete documentation. Country officers handled 664 total outgoing abduction cases, including 246 cases opened in 2020. Of those cases,129 were resolved with the return of 185 abducted children to the United States.

Final Thoughts

Nothing can make a parent feel more helpless than having a child taken away to, or held in, a foreign jurisdiction. If you believe your child is in the process of being abducted by a parent, legal guardian, or someone acting on their behalf, contact the experienced family law attorneys at Masters Law Group.

Our Senior Attorneys, Erin Masters and Anthony Joseph, have extensive experience in cases involving international child custody disputes in both courts located in the State of Illinois and the United States federal court system.

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