The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children estimates that approximately 200,000 of the 260,000 children abducted each year are taken by a parent or other family member. Family Child Abduction is a very serious criminal offense that can have devastating effects on children and parents.
Family child abduction is illegal in every state, and it is often treated as a felony-level offense that can result in prison upon conviction. In many cases, family abductions occur in the midst of bitter divorce or child custody battles. The child may be kept beyond a court allotted visitation period or the parent may pick up the child from school or daycare without permission and not return the child. In other cases, a child may be abducted by a family member and may face physical or sexual abuse.
The Frightening Family Abduction Statistics
David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire, led a team of researchers who sought a better estimate of the prevalence of family abduction. They used data from three waves of the National Surveys of Children’s Exposure to Violence (NatSCEV), sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2008, 2011 and 2014, the surveys asked children aged 10 to 17 years about their life experiences. Information about children aged 9 and younger was gathered from caregivers.
Some key findings:
- 4 percent of children in the sample had experienced family abduction and 1.2 percent had experienced it within the past year. Based on this information, the researchers estimate that 875,000 children a year – 12 per 1,000 — are either abducted by a relative.
- Parents were the perpetrators in more than 90 percent of abductions. Mothers and female family members were responsible for the majority – 60 percent. However, fathers and male relatives were responsible for 64 percent of all abductions.
- Children who have been abducted are more likely to be from low-income households and have separated, estranged or divorced parents. In two-parent families, an estimated nine children per 1,000 experience an abduction compared to 84 per 1,000 in single-parent households.
- 43 percent of abductions were reported to the police, including 86 percent of family abductions.
If you are facing a family abduction matter, call the police immediately. These cases are treated very seriously and many AMBER alerts that are issued stem from family abductions. Even where the child may not face an imminent threat of physical harm, law enforcement will treat these types of abductions as high priorities and will work to return the child to his or her parent.
International Family Abductions
International child abduction is a distressing problem that impacts numerous families worldwide. This issue has profound emotional, psychological, and legal implications for those involved. Due to the increasing ease of international travel, these cases are sadly on the rise.
But what classifies as International Parental Child Abduction? As per Travel.State.Gov, international parental child abduction is the removal or retention of a child outside their country of habitual residence in breach of another parent or guardian’s custody rights. The Office of Children’s Issues within the U.S. Department of State is a leader in U.S. government efforts to prevent international parental child abduction (both from the United States and to the United States), help children and families involved in abduction cases, and promote the objectives of the Hague Abduction Convention.
Causes and Factors of International Child Abduction
A variety of factors drive international child abduction. Child abduction often occurs after separations, divorces, or custody disputes. Let’s take a look at some additional factors that contribute to international child abduction:
- Cultural and Economic Reasons: Globalization and increased international mobility have prompted some parents to return to their native countries, often taking their children. These reasons are often influenced by a desire to maintain cultural connections, be closer to extended family, or seek better economic opportunities in their home nation.
- Fear of Child’s Well-being: Concerns about the child’s safety in the other parent’s environment can drive some parents to abduct their child when they believe it offers better conditions.
- Parental Alienation: In some cases, one parent might feel alienated from the child due to actual or perceived biases in the custody proceedings. Parental Alienation can foster desperation, prompting the alienated parent to resort to drastic measures like abduction to regain control over the situation.
- Lack of Robust Legal Framework: Different legal systems and international treaties across countries are challenging. Not all countries are part of the Hague Convention of Civil Aspects. The lack of a legal framework in certain countries creates loopholes that abducting parents might exploit. The absence of streamlined procedures for cross-border child custody disputes can complicate efforts to prevent international abduction.
To effectively tackle the underlying issues of international child abduction, it’s essential to take a thorough approach. An effective process might involve enhancing parents’ communication and establishing robust support systems. We can work together to prevent the detrimental effects of international child abduction families by addressing these factors across borders.
Preventing Child Abduction
When parents can’t agree on where a child should live, working with an attorney experienced in child abductions can help. If you think the other parent has taken your child, here’s what you can do:
- Get a Court Order or Custody Decree: It’s essential to have a clear court order that outlines custody arrangements and travel restrictions. This order can help prevent unwanted travel with the child. Court orders can also address matters like passports and custody details.
- Consult a Child Abduction Attorney: Talk to an attorney who knows about these situations. They can help you understand your options and might suggest getting an order that stops the child from leaving the country.
- Look for Warning Signs: Watch for sudden changes in the other parent’s life, like quitting a job or selling a home. These changes could indicate plans to move. You can find more information on our Resources for Parents page.
- Tell the Police and Share Court Orders: Inform the local police about the situation and give them copies of your court orders, including any custody, protection, or restraining orders you have.
- Contact a Foreign Embassy or Consulate: If your child is a dual national of another country, consider contacting that country’s embassy or consulate.
- Know About Travel Rules: The United States doesn’t have strict rules for children leaving the country. Even without both parents’ agreement, a child can cross borders. Without a clear court order saying otherwise, it can be challenging for law enforcement to stop an abduction.
If you believe your child has been abducted, always start by calling the police.
Work With a Child Abduction Attorney
Dealing with international child abduction situations presents significant challenges for parents and children. Seeking the assistance of a child abduction attorney is a crucial step in ensuring the safe recovery of your child.
Taking swift action is necessary if you ever face a child abduction case. In such situations, partnering with an experienced child abduction attorney is needed. Their experience becomes crucial for initiating a Hague Convention application for scaling a defense against any Hague Convention-related legal actions.
Erin Masters and Anthony Joseph are highly experienced in handling disputes related to international child abduction, particularly within the jurisdiction of the State of Illinois and the United States federal court system. Voted 2023’s Best Lawyers® in America 2023, Masters Law Group is focused on solving problems and achieving the best possible result for our clients, and more importantly, any children involved.