It is the nightmare of any family. After a dispute, one of the parents takes their child and runs away to another country. It could be the home country of one of the parents, or a country where they have citizenship or connections. Regardless of the situation, the result is the same: the rightful guardian is left distraught and unsure of what avenues of recourse they have available to them.
The problem is not isolated to any one part of the world, or to parents of any particular affluence.
According to the United States Central Authority, over 600 children in 2014 were victims of international parental abduction.
While we hope this never happens, preparation is a better response than reaction. Here are some of the resources available to parents of abducted children through local, federal, and international authorities.
Report the abduction immediately to law enforcement
As is the case with any parental abduction, the first step is to report the incident to law enforcement authorities. Local law enforcement (such as the Police or Sheriff's Department) is often the first level of response, and can help if the child and abducting parent has not left the area yet. Through Amber Alerts and other means, law enforcement can keep families together.
However, if there is a fear that the abducting parent and child have already left the country, then it may be time to escalate the situation to the FBI.
If there is reason to believe that the abduction has crossed international borders, then it may be time to contact the State Department for more help.
Contact the Office of Children's Issues at the State Department
If the abducting parent and child have already left the country, then the next step is to contact the Office of Children's Issues, part of the U.S. State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs.
As an international office, the Office of Children's Issues can work with international law enforcement and INTERPOL to distribute the child's information and send out alerts.
In addition, once the Office of Children's Issues is involved, the office can distribute information about the abducted child to U.S. Embassies where the child and abducting parent are suspected to be located at. Embassies, in turn, can work closely with local law enforcement to distribute information, and hopefully find the abducted child safe and sound.
Those who should need to contact the Office of Children's Issues should be prepared to provide as much information as possible about their child. This includes recent photograph, any names the child may be known under, the child's last known location, and any connections the abducting parent may have. The information will help prepare international authorities to locate the child and ultimately bring them home.
Assistance available for parents and children
While the role of the State Department is limited under international law, there are still avenues of recourse available to parents who have abducted children abroad. Through the Hague Abduction Convention, a child may be able to be reunited with their parent in the United States.
However, the petitioning parent must prove that the child was abducted, it was not in the right of the abducting parent to remove the child, and that the abduction happened in the past year.
For those parents who have located their children abroad, there may be additional avenues of assistance available. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children may be able to provide financial assistance to reunite parents with their children. Additionally, the National Center also maintains a list of reunification councilors, who can help parents and children make a successful transition after the abduction.
Though a nightmare scenario, there are avenues for parents and children to be reunited after an abduction. By knowing your rights, parents can work within the system to bring their abducted children home safe.