Understanding International Parental Child Abduction on Missing Children’s Day

May 25th, 2024, is National Missing Children’s Day, a reminder of the importance of child safety and the prevention of child abductions. For parents, guardians, and all those invested in the safety of children, vigilance is vital. 

Despite concerted efforts, parental child abductions persist, with international cases posing particularly daunting challenges. Shockingly, family abductions alone make up 49 percent of all child abduction cases, underscoring the gravity of the issue. The heartache endured by both the abducted child and the left-behind parent is truly unimaginable.

In this blog, we will explore the complexities of international parental child abduction, providing you with essential knowledge and resources should you ever confront this distressing scenario. Here’s what you need to know.

National Missing Children’s Day

National Missing Children’s Day is a solemn occasion emphasizing ongoing efforts to protect and defend children nationwide. This day, established by President Ronald Reagan on May 25, 1983, pays tribute to the brave endeavors of various agencies, organizations, and individuals dedicated to protecting children’s safety.

The origin of National Missing Children’s Day lies in the disappearance of 6-year-old Etan Patz from New York City on May 25, 1979. Etan’s case not only shocked the nation but also catalyzed efforts to address the issue of missing children on a national scale. On this day, we remember him and acknowledge the unwavering dedication of those who tirelessly work to reunite families and protect children.

Let’s turn our attention to a crucial aspect of child safety: understanding the signs of parental child abduction. By identifying these indicators, we can help better protect our children and take proactive steps to prevent such heartbreaking situations.

Knowing The Signs Of Parental Child Abduction

Being able to identify the red flags that signal parental child abduction is crucial when it comes to preventing these tragic scenarios. Family members can often be the perpetrators, as they may believe they know what is best for the child. Young children are particularly vulnerable targets as they may not know how to seek help or alert others if their parent takes them.

It is essential to be mindful of warning signs and factors that may increase the likelihood of parental child abduction, including:

  1. Threats and Previous Incidents: Any previous threats of seriously hiding your child are critical, as these behaviors can escalate to abduction.
  2. Weak Ties to Current Location: Parents with limited connections to their current community, unstable employment, or distant family may feel more inclined to relocate with the child.
  3. Strong Affiliation with Another Country: Keep an eye on parents with strong emotional or familial ties to another country, especially if they have lived there previously or frequently express a desire to return.
  4. Recent Unexplained Changes in Behavior: Sudden and unexplained actions like quitting a job, selling property, closing bank accounts, or applying for passports or visas should raise concerns, as they could indicate plans for abduction.
  5. History of Relationship Struggles or Domestic Violence: In some cases, parents who perceive themselves as wronged in the relationship may resort to abduction as a means of retaliation.

By recognizing these red flags, we can take proactive steps to help protect our children and prevent the devastating consequences of parental child abduction.

How To Keep Children Safe

Helping secure the safety of our children involves proactive steps and swift action when needed. Establishing clear parental responsibilities and visitation plans is crucial. Reporting a parenting dispute to appropriate authorities, such as local law enforcement or a state judicial officer, is vital for accountability and expedited resolution.

There are also great aids available besides the local authorities. Reaching out to resources like the Department of State’s Office of Children’s Issues and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) can provide support. NCMEC collaborates closely with government agencies and administers programs like the Victim Reunification Travel Program.

To further help mitigate the risk of parental child abduction or enhance the chances of recovering a missing child, consider the following gathering the following:

  • Up-to-date pictures of your child.
  • Fingerprints of your child.
  • A written detailed description of your child, including height, weight, hair color, eye color, birthmarks, and noticeable physical characteristics.
  • Copies of your child’s Social Security card and passport.

By collaboratively taking these measures, we can collectively contribute to helping safeguard the safety and well-being of all children. Additionally, seeking guidance from a seasoned child abduction attorney with Hague Convention case experience can help navigate such challenging situations.

How The Hague Convention Can Help

The Hague Convention is an international agreement that provides a legal framework for the prompt return of children who have been wrongfully removed or retained outside their home country. The Convention guarantees that parents must return children involved in international custody cases to their habitual residence. This deters parents from attempting to relocate children across borders without the other parent’s consent or a court order.

The original Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 were massive, multi-part international treaties that established certain guidelines of international law, including rules of engagement that countries agreed to follow during times of war. In the decades since, many additional Hague conventions have taken place, and the Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH) was established as a permanent organization with the goal of establishing and supporting a set of unified international laws.

Each section and installment of the Hague Conventions has been signed, ratified, and entered into force by a different selection of countries. As such, any list of “Hague countries” based upon a single convention would be suspect and inadequate. However, as of March 2022, the HCCH itself includes 91 permanent members: 90 countries (nearly all of which are also members of the United Nations) and the European Union itself, which is classified as a “Regional Economic Integration Organisation (REIO). HCCH also includes 65 “connected parties” which are not full members, but are either in the process of becoming a member or have signed, ratified or agreed to observe one or more HCCH Conventions (full list can be found here).

How Does The Hague Convention Work?

The left-behind parent can initiate legal proceedings for the child’s return when someone wrongfully removes or retains them in a Hague Convention country. The central authority in the country where the child is located, such as the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Children’s Issues, plays a crucial role in coordinating efforts to find the child and facilitate their return.

Under the Hague Convention, the child’s return is the primary objective, and the legal proceedings focus on determining the child’s habitual residence and whether their removal or retention violated the custody rights of the left-behind parent. The Hague Convention does not address custody or visitation rights issues but instead focuses on the prompt return of the child to their country of habitual residence. 

Click here to see the participating countries of the treaty. 

Working With A Child Abduction Attorney

International custody disputes are almost always extremely complex and delicate situations, and you should not attempt to navigate them without the assistance of a knowledgeable and experienced child abduction attorney. A family law attorney well-versed in child abductions can provide crucial assistance in filing Hague Convention applications and help defend against lawsuits under the Convention.

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. We have extensive knowledge and experience with The Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (“The Hague Convention”) that was enacted into law through the International Child Abduction Remedies Act (“ICARA”), which provides that a parent whose child has been wrongfully removed from or retained in the United States may petition for the child’s return to his or her country of habitual residence.

See our Featured Hague Decisions here:

Last Thoughts

National Missing Children’s Day reminds us of our ongoing efforts to reunite missing children with their families. One significant step towards this goal is for the U.S. and other countries to participate in the Hague Convention, which helps enable the negotiation of treaties to streamline international justice.

When dealing with international child custody/abduction cases, it’s essential to have the support of a knowledgeable family law attorney who understands the intricacies of the international legal system. With our guidance, you can navigate the complex legal processes involved in The Hague Convention and work toward a fast resolution, prioritizing the child’s well-being.

Contact us here today to learn more.