United States child-citizens continue to be criminally kidnapped, illegally removed overseas, and wrongfully detained in foreign countries in shocking numbers by their non-custodial parent. The global plague of international parental child abduction significantly continues in America in a similar capacity as it does in the majority of nations abroad. However, the United States Department of State has now reported in two consecutive years that the number of reported outbound cases of American child-citizen abductions has declined. Clearly, this is very significant, particularly since previously reported growth trends demonstrated an average growth rate of reported American child abductions of over 20% per year during the previous decade.
Specifically, during 2012 there were 799 reported international parental child abduction cases filed with the United States Central Authority representing a total of 1,144 children. Previously, in 2011 there were a total of 941 reported international parental child abduction cases filed with the United States Central Authority, representing a total of 1,367 children.
Thus, the reduction by 142 filed cases represents a decline of 15% of reported abduction cases from 2012 from 2011. During the same reporting period, there were 223 fewer children internationally kidnapped in 2012 from 2011, representing a 16.3% decrease of total children abducted.
Comparatively, there were 1022 reported international parental child abduction cases in 2010 representing 1,492 children. Thus, there has been a reduction of 223 reported abduction cases from 2010 to 2012, representing a total decline of 348 children between the two years. This represents a two year decline from 2010 to 2012 in reported cases by 21.8%, and a 23.3% reduction over the same two year period in the number of children kidnapped.
Year Reported Cases Number of Children
2010 1022 1,492
2011 941 1,367
2012 799 1,144
The decline in the reported number of international parental child abductions of American citizens represents a significant development and bespeaks of the tremendous educational outreach effort by the United States Department of State’s Office of Children’sIssues as well as non-government organizations such as but not limited to the I CARE Foundation and the National Center For Missing And Exploited Children to raise awareness of parental abduction amongst lawyers, judges, law enforcement, and targeted parents to that children may be protected. However, it is important to note that despite a groundbreaking shift in child abduction statistical growth trends previously realized, we strongly affirm that criminal international parental child abduction continues to be a destructive epidemic in the United States and abroad that must be met with new abduction prevention laws and government policies, while significant efforts to educate courts, law enforcement, social workers, and at-risk parents of the many issues of child kidnapping diligently continue.
It is important to note that while the number of ‘reported cases’ of international parental child abduction have declined, the number of ‘unreported cases’ of abduction remains a significant concern for both government agencies and non-government organizations dedicated to preventing abduction. Previously, the I CARE Foundation issued a report that the number of yearly unreported cases of abduction is believed to equal between 100% and 125% of all reported abduction cases. We have no reason to change this forecast. Thus, though there are no measurable statistics on unreported abduction cases, it would be reasonable, though not conclusive, to anticipate that the number of unreported cases of international child abduction have also declined.
While there is much to be pleased about regarding the significant decline in the reported international parental child abduction rate and forecasted decline in unreported cases of abduction, a great concern critically worth noting is that the number of children actually legally returned home after they are kidnapped remains to be estimated at only 10% when considering the total number of reported and unreported cases.
The reality is that children who are internationally abducted do not come home. Sadly, many are lost forever.
One of the major facets of abduction prevention is education, and raising awareness of abduction threats to at-risk parents clearly has demonstrated a clear and measurable impact on the number of reported abduction cases.
Clearly and unquestionably, educational outreach programs directed toward raising international parental child abduction awareness are working! Still, there is a long way to go.
The I CARE Foundation and the organization’s leadership have been actively involved in increasing awareness of child abduction while assisting a large number of parents protect their at-risk children.
One of the I CARE Foundation’s most dynamic and significant educational outreach programs that have had measurable results is the ‘Parent Blogger Educational Outreach Program’. Under the program, highly influential parenting bloggers with a large global readership of followers have written a series of informative educational articles concerning the pandemic of international parental child abduction, including warning signs, risk factors, and actionable steps an at-risk parent may take to prevent abduction. This grassroots effort led primarily by mothers who write and blog to raise awareness has been a tremendous success and has resulted in a significant number of successful child abduction prevention cases to occur. Collectively, the extraordinary participants of the ‘Parent Blogger Educational Outreach Program’ have reached millions of parents, some who may have been directly at risk, or who may have known another parent and child at risk of abduction. In addition, the reach of these incredible parents willing to help protect children at risk of abduction has had a global impact on the prevention of child abduction as blogger participants were located on every continent and the millions of their readers blanketed the globe. Clearly, the effort of these parent writers has made a significant difference in protecting lives, both in the United States, Canada, and elsewhere!
With the recent success of efforts put forth by child advocates everywhere to stop abduction, we are reminded that child abduction is a cruel and dangerous act against a child.
With grave concern we acknowledge that hundreds of young children each year are murdered by their parents in the United States, and that there is a clear statistical correlation of filicide in nations abroad and abduction similar to reported United States and Canadian government statistics of parental child murder.
As this report cites in detail, international parental child abduction is a severe criminal act of kidnapping committed by a parent against a child and the targeted left behind parent. International parental child abductors commit grave crimes against their child, including the act of abduction as well as the acts of child abuse and neglect.
According to numerous studies and reports including those issued by the United States Department of Justice and Canada’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police, an abductor exhibits significant sociopathic tendencies, and generally does not act in the best interest of a child, but conversely, the act of abduction and the acts after the child-snatching cause both serious short-term and long-term damage that may, on many occasions, be irreversible. Sadly, acts of identity stripping, parental isolation, and removal of the bond between the abducted child and targeted parent speak nothing of the fact that filicide: the act of parental child murder is real. So too, tragically, is the reality that children who have been abducted and who have had their identity stripped during an abduction exhibit an alarming number of characteristics that are exhibited in individuals who commit suicide.
For the majority of child advocates who work tirelessly to protect children, especially advocates who are not in the business of profiting due to the tragedy of a child being kidnapped, what we fight for are lives – children’s lives.
In our capacity as directors of the not-for-profit I CARE Foundation, which has successfully assisted reunited numerous internationally kidnapped children with their targeted left-behind parents taken from around the world, while also preventing an exponentially larger number of children from international parental child abduction, we and our colleagues have worked tirelessly at conducting extensive research in the area of child abduction.
The I CARE Foundation’s volunteer activity has included playing key roles in legally reuniting many abducted children, writing and working diligently in the passing of abduction prevention laws and leading in lobbying efforts to have existing policies modified so that the capacity to protect children from kidnapping would be increased, in our creation of a national attorney network of educated lawyers willing and ready to assist at-risk children and their families, in our capacity as researchers and educators to study the global issues of international parental child abduction and publish our findings in a way that may drive policy, and in our efforts to create a grassroots educational awareness movement by working with leading parent bloggers and writers with large followers, who have shared with their audiences the grave issues of abduction.
Though great strides have been made over the past two years, and we hope that the child abduction trend will continue to decline, we do have reason for concern. Our apprehension is due in part due to the reality that though abduction rates have declined in the last known reporting fiscal year of 2012, there remains a glaring failure by the courts and law enforcement to punish international parental child abductors even though the act itself is a federal criminal act that is a known form of child abuse. Without concern to be held accountable for their actions, parents who contemplate or carry out abduction will do so with a sense of immunity. Without holding kidnappers accountable, children at-risk of abduction remain vulnerable.
In addition, it is critical to recognize that chasing parents who attempt to legally reunite with their kidnapped child face incredible difficulties in doing so. The challenges faced are discussed in this report in detail; however, they include but are not limited to failures by nations to uphold international treaties such as the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, the outright failure of nations to enter into any international treaty, receiving-country prejudice at the trial court level on legal action taken by a left-behind parent, grave financial challenges faced by a targeted chasing parent, and direct physical dangers faced by a targeted parent if they should attempt to reunite with their abducted child.
Clearly, child abduction prevention advocates are making an impact through an assortment of outreach programs that are raising awareness at the at-risk parent level, the trial lawyer level, and within the courts, as demonstrated by the second consecutive year of abduction rate declines. However, for parents presently attempting to reunite with their kidnapped children, the challenges they face are grave as explained herein.
REPORTED CASES OF INTERNATIONAL PARENTAL CHILD ABDUCTION
Indisputable, are the actual number of ‘reported’ abduction cases. Estimating the incalculable total number of ‘unreported’ cases is difficult to assess. Despite this inability to concisely determine the total number of cases each year, it appears America and our nation’s children-citizens are plagued by a dangerous criminal epidemic known as ‘International Parental Child Abduction’ that is silently sweeping through our nation. At risk are tens if not hundreds of thousands of our defenseless children who are targeted for abduction each year.
In April of 2009, the annual Report on Compliance with the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction was released. In that publication, Janice L. Jacobs, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs writes, “Unfortunately, current trends reflect a steady increase in the number of international parental child abduction cases and highlight the urgency of redoubling efforts to promote compliance with Convention obligations and encourage additional nations to join the Convention.” She also writes, “Very few options exist for parents and children who are victims of parental child abduction.” In the 2010 annual report Ms. Jacobs continues to voice concerns over the increasing numbers of our child-citizens who have been wrongfully removed or wrongfully detained.
Similar sentiment has been shared in reports issued by the U.S. Department of State since this time. There is no question that the challenges that parents and children of abduction face are significant.
However, during 2012 there were 799 reported international parental child abduction cases filed with the United States Central Authority representing a total of 1,144 children. Previously, in 2011 there were a total of 941 reported international parental child abduction cases filed with the United States Central Authority, representing a total of 1,367 children. Thus, the reduction by 142 filed cases represents a decline of 15% of reported abduction cases from 2012 from 2011. During the same reporting period, there were 223 fewer children internationally kidnapped in 2012 from 2011, representing a 16.3% decrease of total children abducted. Comparatively, there were 1022 reported international parental child abduction cases in 2010 representing 1,492 children. Thus, there has been a reduction of 223 reported abduction cases from 2010 to 2012, representing a total decline of 348 children between the two years. This represents a two year decline from 2010 to 2012 in reported cases by 21.8%, and a 23.3% reduction over the same two year period in the number of children kidnapped.
UNREPORTED CASES OF INTERNATIONAL PARENTAL CHILD ABDUCTION
Peter Thomas Senese commented, “The anticipated number of international abductions used as a benchmark and often referred to is inconclusive because the published data does not take into consideration ‘unreported’ cases of international child abduction, population growth, increases in multi-cultural marriages, immigration migration increases to the United States, and economic difficulties many families are facing, which inevitably leads to a break-up of the family unit. More concerning is how the widely distributed and cited surveys used what I believe to be an inadequate number of telephone interviews and appear not to include any law enforcement records. In my view, we as a nation have a serious problem on our hands.”
Carolyn Ann Vlk stated, “Admittedly, something is seriously amiss in our ability to accurately estimate the number of children victimized by the crime of child abduction. In my opinion, utilizing only a random telephone survey, to determine the number of affected children is a process flawed by numerous, serious methodological problems. Additionally, the cooperation and compliance rate in obtaining the return of our citizen children who have been criminally internationally abducted must be drastically improved. The recovery of so few of these children during an entire fiscal year is not and should not be acceptable”.
Unfortunately, many internationally abducted children are never returned because their abductions are not reported to authorities. The likelihood is that the vast majority of these types of cases never end with a child’s return. It would be reasonable to conclude that if a targeted parent did not report their child’s abduction, then in all likelihood, that U.S. child-citizen will not be returned to the United States. Due to the number of ‘unreported’ international abduction cases, it is difficult to determine a reasonable return-rate percentage. We recognize the difficulty in attempting to accurately estimate the ‘unreported’ case numbers and believe that it is probable that the number of returns of ‘unreported’ cases is extremely low and essentially immeasurable.
Reasons for ‘unreported’ cases include the financial inability of a Chasing Parent to take legal action since they are responsible to pay for all costs associated with their child’s recovery – even though a child’s international abduction violates state and federal laws such as the International Parental Kidnapping Crimes Act (IPCA). Furthermore, many parents experience a sense of hopelessness that any recovery efforts will be futile since there are great difficulties associated with bringing a child home, including the possibility of first trying to determine where your child is. Also, the fact is that many nations are not a party of or do not uphold the Hague Convention. Furthermore, there exist substantial prejudices in foreign courts.
The NISMART I study reported that there were a total of 354,000 parental child abductions annually. The NISMART II study stated the total number of parental child abductions decreased to approximately 203,900 children. The truth of the matter is that we really do not know how accurate any of the data is or how large of a problem we actually have on our hands. What we do know is that hundreds of thousands of children are targeted for parental abduction each year, and out of this group, tens of thousands of these instances include planned international parental abductions.
PARENTAL CHILD ABDUCTION IS A SEVERE FORM OF CHILD ABUSE
According to leading experts who specialize in international parental child abduction, conclusive and unilateral opinion and fact demonstrates that parental child abduction of a targeted child is a cruel, criminal, and severe form of abuse and mistreatment regardless if the child is with one of their (abducting) parents. This includes the illegal act of international abduction, whereas, the child is unexpectedly uprooted from their home, their community, their immediate and extended family, and their country. Sadly, severe short and long-term psychological problems are prevalent for many abduction victims who survive their kidnapping experience. It is commonplace for a child to be emotionally sabotaged, whereas, the abducting parent will try to remove all bonds and attachments the child has with the other parent, thus, removing the child’s right to know the love of the other parent, and keep in tact their own identity. Too many children simply never come home and in certain cases a child’s abduction overseas has led to the death of the abducted child.
A leader in the field of parental child abduction issues, Dr. Dorothy Huntington wrote an article titled Parental Kidnapping: A New Form of Child Abuse. Huntington contends that from the point of view of the child, “child stealing is child abuse.” According to Huntington, “in child stealing the children are used as both objects and weapons in the struggle between the parents which leads to the brutalization of the children psychologically, specifically destroying their sense of trust in the world around them.”
“Because of the harmful effects on children, parental kidnapping has been characterized as a form of “child abuse” reports Patricia Hoff, Legal Director for the Parental Abduction Training and Dissemination Project, American Bar Association on Children and the Law. Hoff explains, “Abducted children suffer emotionally and sometimes physically at the hands of abductor-parents. Many children are told the other parent is dead or no longer loves them. Uprooted from family and friends, abducted children often are given new names by their abductor-parents and instructed not to reveal their real names or where they lived before.” (Hoff, 1997)
Consider that today in Japan, there are approximately 230 American children-citizens who were illegally abducted from United States soil to Japan by one of their parents in violation of U.S. court orders. To date, and for what is believed to be nearly fifty years, Japan – America’s strong ally – has never returned 1 American child who was parentally kidnapped and illegally detained in accordance to United States law. And tragically, the vast majority of the chasing parents left-behind in the wake of their child’s abduction are not permitted to have contact with their child.
EXTREME DIFFICULTIES IN RECOVERING AN ABDUCTED CHILD
There are abundant reasons why it is very difficult to have an illegally stolen child returned despite the United States being a signatory of The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. They include, but are not limited to the following:
- Lack of action in reporting a child’s abduction by a targeted parent left behind; and,
- Many nations do not comply with or uphold the spirit of the convention (ex, Brazil, Mexico, Germany); and,
- Many countries have not signed the convention (ex. Japan, China, Russia, and many countries located in the Middle East); and,
- Chasing Parents may not have an idea what country their child was taken to; and,
- Chasing Parents are responsible to carry the enormous financial burden associated with their child’s recovery. Many simply do not have the substantial resources needed; and,
- Many Chasing Parents do not have the knowledge necessary to navigate the difficult and complex legal system of international law, nor do they often know who to turn to and what to do; and,
- Nationalistic prejudices of court systems located in the ‘inbound’ country, whereas, a court may try to protect the abducting parent if that parent is a citizen of the country where they abducted the child to; and,
- Cultural differences; and,
- A Chasing Parent’s fear to attempt to recover their child due to threats from the abducting parent or individuals associated with the abducting parent; and,
- Lack of cooperation from law enforcement; and,
- Limited power of the Office of Children’s Issues to intervene on behalf of a U.S. citizen.
REASONS WHY ONE PARENT CRIMINALLY ABDUCTS A CHILD
Studies have demonstrated that an unprecedented number of abductions have occurred where one parent took unilateral action to deprive the other parent of contact with their child. The majority of abducting parents will typically use the child as a tool to cause the targeted parent great pain and suffering. Their intent is simple: to make the other parent suffer as much as possible by depriving that targeted parent with the love and connection to their own child. Nearly every published study on this subject has concluded that an abducting parent has significant, and typically, long-term psychological problems and may in fact be a danger to their child.
We take the time to acknowledge that in certain cases of parental child abduction, a parent claims to have no other choice but to flee the other parent due to serious, grave, and ongoing forms of abuse. We acknowledge that in many abduction defenses found under Article 13 of The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, an abducting parent will often claim mental, emotional, and physical abuse by the other parent as part of their defense to sanction their criminal behavior of abduction. However, we must also acknowledge that domestic violence is a very real, measurable, and in many cases, an ongoing crime that has limited law enforcement safety controls. We acknowledge that there are parents who must flee for their and their child’s safety due to failures by law enforcement and courts to protect their safety, combined with an habitual abuser who aims to cause grave hurt to the targeted parent.
In addition, and understandably, family abductions occur at a higher rate during times of heightened stress such as separation or divorce and often involve custody issues and visitation problems. The sad fact is that a large number of marriages, estimated to be between 40% and 50%, in the U.S. end in divorce.
One of the many considerations that factor into the increase in total abductions indicates that economic difficulties in the United States and elsewhere are a measurable factor in the number of increases in separations and divorces. This added stress can lead to a parental cross-border abduction, particularly since we live in a global society, and the number of international relationships has increased dramatically.
While all children can be potential targets of a family abduction, the likelihood increases when that child has a parent with ties to a foreign country. According to the Juvenile and Family Court Journal Vol. 48, No. 2 titled Jurisdiction In Child Custody and Abduction Cases, “Parents who are citizens of another country (or who have dual citizenship with the U.S.) and also have strong ties to their extended family in their country of origin have long been recognized as abduction risks.” This increase in cultural diversity within the U.S. population has created challenges for our existing laws. Many U.S. born children-citizens fall victim to parental abduction when a parents’ union ends.
Across the U.S., states are struggling to address their archaic and outdated laws, and establish additional precautions to better protect their child-citizen population. Unquestionably, it is critical that child abduction prevention laws are passed in each state and upheld by the judiciary and law enforcement. Failure to do so will likely lead to the looming disaster that is already upon us.
Peter Thomas Senese stated, “As a nation, the United States must fight back this sweeping plague by passing child abduction prevention laws and by increasing our judiciary’s level of competency in overseeing and enforcing laws associated with these complex cases of potential or actual international parental child abductions. Critical to judges and lawmakers’ ability to protect our children is the need for immediate research on this subject. The present available information is archaic, and more than likely inaccurate particularly due to the inability to measure ‘unreported’ cases. The community of child abduction prevention advocates has pointed this out for some time now. What we also need is for the creation and enforcement of well thought out and researched laws along with the upholding of the intent, spirit, and law of the international treaties such as The Hague Convention so we can protect our children and put an end to the spread of this malignant pandemic that has reached our shores.
Florida state representative Darryl Rouson is the lawmaker who championed and sponsored Florida’s landmark Child Abduction Prevention Act (HB 787). The bill was unanimously approved in the Senate and House of Representatives and signed into law by Governor Charlie Crist. Florida’s new preventative legislation will take effect on January 1, 2011. Representative Rouson commented, “It is critical for each state to implement laws that will protect the rights of our children-citizens who may face parental child abduction. The misconception that when one parent steals a child from the other parent, that the child is safe, is undeniably inaccurate. It is through prevention laws such as Florida’s Child Abduction Prevention Act that we will be able to prevent this serious crime against our nation’s children from occurring.”
Carolyn Ann Vlk, the child abduction prevention advocate, commented, “Early on in my research on this critical issue I recognized the urgent need for preventative legislation. Thankfully, Florida’s legislative body wholeheartedly agreed as evidenced by the unanimous votes. I am thrilled for the added measure of safety this new law will have in protecting the children of my great state. However, I will not be satisfied until all states have child abduction prevention legislation enacted.”
IMMIGRATION MIGRATION AND ITS AFFECT ON CHILD ABDUCTION CASES
A report compiled by the renowned Washington-based Pew Hispanic Center reports that most immigrant groups are comprised of young families. The likelihood that a child will be born while the parents are present in the U.S. is high. Prior to 2007, data collected on parents of children under 18 only identified one parent, and a second parent could only be identified if they were married to the first parent. Currently, a second parent identifier is considered whether or not the parents are married to each other. The new data more accurately reflects the number of children living in the U.S. with at least one foreign-born parent.
In 2008 that meant that 22% of all children in the United States had at least one foreign-born parent. In fact, consider the following statistics compiled by the Center for Immigration Studies in its March 2007 analysis. Immigrants and their U.S. born children under age 18, as a share of population: California – 37.9%, Los Angles County – 50%, New York State – 27.9%, New York City – 46.7% and Florida – 27.9%.
It must be noted that although 31.3% of all immigrants originate from Mexico, other countries have significant entry numbers as well. Included in the March 2007 Current Population Survey (CPS) were statistics indicating that 17.6% of all immigrants were from East/Southeast Asia, 12.5% from Europe, 5.5% from South Asia, 3.5% from the Middle East, and Canada at 1.9%.
Traditionally, states such as California, New York, Florida, Texas, Illinois and Arizona have had large numbers of immigrants in their population. What is surprising is the trends in migration toward new centers of immigrant growth. The CPS prepared an analysis of states with statistically significant growth in immigrant population between 2000 and 2007. Most notably, Wyoming, which experienced a percentage increase of 180%, Tennessee at 160%, Georgia at 152.1%, and Alabama at 143.6%. The impact of unprecedented increases in immigrant migration is likely to create multiple challenges as states struggle to keep pace with their newest segment of population and their children.
“As a nation of immigrants, it is important to note that as our nation’s population increases due to immigrant migration, so too does the likelihood of increased cross-border child abduction,” Peter Thomas Senese added.
Additionally, it has been well established that illegal aliens do not respond to surveys such as the US Census or the CPS. Because the U.S. government does not have accurate records of arrival and departures for individuals present illegally in the country, their numbers must be estimated, as there is no hard data to draw from. However, indirect means for establishing these figures are used, and they must be viewed with a considerable amount of uncertainty. In 2007 CPS, it was estimated that of the approximately 37.9 million immigrants present in the U.S., nearly 1 in 3 immigrants were present illegally.
It is important to note this segment of our population when discussing child abduction because when a child is born in the U.S. that child automatically is a U.S. citizen. While the available data gives us fairly accurate figures regarding the number of children born in the U.S. as well as those immigrants who are present legally, a number is impossible to compile accurately in relation to the unauthorized resident population.
In regards to children born to illegal immigrants, in the five-year period from 2003 to 2008, that number rose from 2.7 million to 4 million. The report published by the Pew Hispanic Centers reported that nationally the children of illegal immigrants now comprise 1 in 15 elementary and secondary students in the U.S. Additionally, in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada and Texas more than 1 in every 10 students in those states are the children of illegal immigrants.
Carolyn Ann Vlk, the writer of Florida’s Child Abduction Prevention Act stated, “The ability of state governments to prevent the abduction of children by family members could be drastically improved by comprehensive legislation. While aiming to protect all children, special consideration must be given to those children who may be at increased risk simply by virtue of their parentage. According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, the resident population of the U.S. projected up to April 22, 2010 estimated that one international migrant enters the U.S. every 36 seconds. International travel has become commonplace and as more cross-cultural relationships develop children are born. A number of these relationships will end and may result in an increased risk of international abduction of the child. Attempting to retrieve a child who has been abducted and possibly hidden internationally is a near impossibility as a multitude of problems surface in cases such as these. Unfortunately, studies have proved 4 of 5 Americans drastically underestimate the threat of a family abduction. Statistically, it is a sobering thought when you become aware of the vast numbers of children that are criminally abducted each year. Preventative laws are a necessity as an immediate remedy to this unconscionable crime.”
DEPARTMENT OF STATE’S OFFICE OF CHILDREN’S ISSUES
The Office of Children’s Issues has worked diligently to educate at-risk parents of abduction via an assortment of outreach programs. The leadership at OCI has placed a particular emphasis on abduction prevention, which in turn has demonstrated remarkable and measurable results including two consecutive years of significant abduction rate declines.
The Department of State was established to assist parents whose children have been unlawfully removed from the country. The OCI assists the remaining parent and strives to protect those children who have been victimized in these types of cases. Considering thousands of child custody cases are fought across national borders each year, the assistance of the OCI can be invaluable.
Litigating custody, especially across international borders where conflicting orders may exist can be difficult if not impossible. The OCI aims to assist in these cases by enhancing an understanding of the many complex laws, both domestic and international that may be applicable to a particular case.
However, OCI has significant limitations, including the fact that they cannot represent your abducted child in a foreign court. OCI does provide a list of lawyers in foreign countries who at times have worked pro bono on abduction cases. However, there are no obligations by any of these lawyers to take a case, and it is up to each Chasing Parent to work out all arrangements. The reality is that ‘pro bono’ sounds like a nice idea, but it is an unrealistic expectation.
Immediate suggestions that could allow the dedicated staff at OCI to be more helpful include the following:
- Creating and distributing useful, concise information for chasing parents, law enforcement, and court personnel regarding all areas of IPCA. The use of digital media combined and supported by printed content is critical.
- The development of an independent website outside of the Department of State’s website. This website must be easy to navigate, include audio and digital feeds, and must be accessible to individuals in various languages.
- OCI must actively support advocates and lawmakers who are seeking to pass child abduction prevention laws. Support by OCI in this area can increase the visibility of the issues of child abduction while also increasing lawmaker and judiciary awareness.
- Dissemination of information on the Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program.
- Dissemination of information on the ‘Prevent Departure Program’, and dedicated resources established to assist lawyers and Chasing Parents seeking assistance under this program.
- Increases in outreach toward documented and un-documented aliens about OCI, and the rights of their U.S. child-citizen.
- Increase in personnel to support the tremendous workload of the OCI staff.