U.S. Senate Resolution 543 Condemns International Parental Child Abduction

On the evening of December 4th 2012, U.S. Senators unanimously took a stand against international parental child abduction.  This is a big day for those of us that devote our lives to advocating for those innocent children that are targets of international child abduction.

The I CARE Foundation is pleased to share that U.S. Senator Barbara Boxter’s International Parental Child Abduction Resolution (Senate Resolution 543) first introduced to the Senate on August 2nd, 2012 passed unanimously yesterday, December 4th, 2012 a Senate vote. Previously, Senator Boxter stated before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee Business Meeting presided over Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) that, “The International Parental Child Abduction Resolution condemns the abduction of a child by one parent to another country. It also calls on our nation and the international community to do more to resolve current and future abduction cases.” Senator Boxter also stated she “Introduced this resolution to help shine a light on child abduction and to urge immediate and sustained action to address it.”

Senator Boxter’s comments made before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unequivocally shed light as to the great difficulties targeted children and parents face.  Senator Boxter, a known child advocate stated before Senator Kerry’s Foreign Relations Committee that, “The resolution (Senate 543) condemns the abduction of a child by one parent to another country. It also calls on our nation and the international community to do more to resolve current and future abduction cases. By approving this resolution, we are sending a clear, bipartisan message that the United States Senate stands united in its condemnation of child abduction and its commitment to help end this injustice.”

The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a Senate Resolution 543 by a voice vote yesterday. Impressively, the resolution garnered 28 original cosponsors, and is a clear indication that the voices of the community of activists are reaching the halls of our nation’s Capitol.

Senate Resolution 543 reinforces several critical issues that are expected to come to the aid of targeted children and parents, as is discussed in a step-by-step summary analysis provided below.  However, on the surface, and with great light on the subject needed, Resolution 543 names Japan, India and Egypt as the worst offenders in the kidnappings of children from the United States to countries abroad.

Equally importantly, Senate Resolution 543 calls for several critical actions to be taken that will open up new avenues of child protection.  Specifically, Senator Boxter’s resolution calls for the immediate review of the protocols previously established by the United States Congress when our lawmakers agreed to become a signatory member of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Parental Child Abduction.  Specifically, Senate Resolution 543 (Article 2) (Section II) (Part E) states:

(E) review the advisory services made available to United States citizens by the United States Department of State, the United States Department of Justice, and other United States Government agencies—

(i) to improve the prevention of international parental child abduction from the United States; and

(ii) to ensure that effective and timely assistance is provided to United States citizens who are parents of children abducted from the United States and taken to foreign countries.

What (Article 2) (Section II) (Part E) (iI) makes it clear that:

A review of Congress’ existing declaration when it annexed the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction whereas it declined to financially assist targeted parents who have had their child criminally kidnapped (International Kidnapping Crimes Act) reunite with their children.According to an I CARE Foundation recent study,  parents who have their children internationally abducted face severe and overwhelming costs in attempting to reunite with their kidnapped children, and the financial costs and economic impact on the U.S. economy over the next 10 years is expected to reach over 5 Billion U.S. Dollars.   Clearly the resolution’s (2)(E)(ii) is specifying that the United States government must “ensure that effective and timely assistance is provided to Untied States citizens” who have their children kidnapped – and this means financial assistance that may be required to locate an internationally kidnapped child, financial assistance for litigation expenses and any activity associated with a child’s recovery, including reunification assistance.  How important is this?  Enormous, particularly when we must consider that many of targeted parents fail to reunite with their abducted child because the stealing parent knows that so long as they can financially drain the other parent’s resources, and tie up the litigation into a long process, they should be successful in achieving their criminal act of abduction.  Should this portion of the Senate’s resolution be upheld, not only will it change the ability of a targeted parent to protect their child, but it will alter the dynamics of an abductor’s litigation strategy because they will not be able to financially drain the targeted parent.

Equally important, (Article 2) (Section II) (Part E) does something that could potentially make the greatest difference of all aspects of the resolution.  Specifically, the Department of State’s Office of Children’s Issues (OCI), which I believe is made up of some of the most dedicated and caring child advocates on the planet, presently have extreme limitations on what it can and cannot do to assist American parents who have had their child abducted.  Which leads to great frustration by the nation’s citizens who turn to OCI for assistance.By calling to “review the advisory services made available to United States citizens by the United States Department of State, the United States Department of Justice, and other United States Government agencies”, the Senate Resolution 543 is not only clearly identifying but acknowledging that the existing agencies charged with protecting our nation’s children need to be overhauled in that there is a need to provide OCI with more power to act on behalf of kidnapped children.  Surely, when this definitive review is conducted, there will be a clear disposition that OCI is underfunded, understaffed, and given limited power, which means as part of the Department of State, it is underutilized.

(Article 2) (Section II) (Part E) importantly states since international parental child abduction is a federal criminal act of kidnapping – this is not a child custody disagreement but a brutal act against a child – that review of existing protocols on how our national law enforcement agency may assist a targeted parent who has had a child abducted.

This section of Senate Resolution 543 is critical because today, and in the past, the vast majority of parental child kidnappers did not fear any retribution for the scheming, abusive, and destructive criminal act of cross-border abduction.  Without concern that they would be held accountable for their act, and with the financial playing field heavily tilted in their favor, there has been a sharp increase of child abductions that could see as many as 100,000 to 125,000 American children abducted abroad if we consider the current number of reported cases of abduction, the forecasted number of unreported cases of abduction, the growth rate of abduction, and underlying conditions such as immigration migration to the United States as well as general population growth as factors.

Critically supporting (Article 2) (Section II) (Part E) is (Article 2) (Section II) (Part A), whereas the resolution calls for:

(A)   Vigorously pursue the return of each child abducted by a parent from the United States to another country through all appropriate means, facilitate access by the left-behind parent if the child is not returned, and, where appropriate, seek the extradition of the parent that abducted the child.

Did you notice the key words, “Vigorously pursue the return of each child abducted by a parent from the United States?”

This is clearly indicating that the United States Senate is sending a message that children will no longer be considered collateral political damage and that the United States government will protect and defend its defenseless, innocent children who are kidnapped and held hostage overseas.

How?

By seeking “the extradition of the parent that abducted the child.”

As previously stated, parental child abductors have little concern that their actions will be prosecuted even though the acts of international parental child abduction violates federal laws including criminal codes on kidnapping, and, at times, laws prohibiting the aiding and abetting of a fugitive.  In addition, a state’s laws on abduction are also violated, as well as criminal codes of child abuse and child neglect.  Of course contempt of court and perjury are rampant in these cases, and are punishable by contempt of court charges.

However, now it is clear that a parent can and should seek criminal remedy in conjunction with civil remedy available to them under the Hague Convention.

For a long time now, child abduction prevention advocates and chasing parents have all shared a very important message: by having an arrest warrant issued against a child abductor, by extraditing the abductor on kidnapping charges, by prosecuting abductors, and by having them sentenced, a strong message that will serve as a deterrent against abduction will be issued, and many would-be abductors will think carefully before they abuse their child.

Extradition means in many cases that in the simplest terms an abductor will have limited ability to hide under the rules of law of another nation.  Granted, part of the challenge is that each country has its own rules as to what type of crime it will allow extradition of; however, the underpinnings of Senate Resolution 543 is to use diplomacy that enables the laws of a child’s country of original jurisdiction to allow the child’s custodial parent the ability of protecting their child.

Obviously, it is critical that international parental child abduction occurs.  Which means new abduction prevention laws must be created while certain existing policies must be modified.  Clearly, new laws and policy modifications that occur will become worthless if judges presiding over courts of jurisdiction of a targeted child do not enforce the laws they are governed to uphold. Furthermore, it must become a mandatory policy for each child protective agency to develop a special division of trained personnel familiar with international parental child abduction in order to protect a child from abuse, including the common-place false claims made by a taking parent against a targeted parent.

Over the past 15 years the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, funded a study on child abduction murder cases. The number of cases of filicide – the murder of a child by one of their parents – was alarming.   A recent report issued by the I CARE Foundation provides acute insight as to the grave risk of murder associated with international child abduction cases.

Perhaps shedding light as to just how important Senate Resolution 543 is are the comments of Mr. Joel Walter,Esq., a Board of Director of the I CARE Foundation when he shared his insight on parental child abduction and the threat of parental child murder. “Once removed from their home, the child becomes a hostage who is put into more danger than being alienated from their other parent and family, being forced to live the life as a fugitive, having their identity stripped away – no, there is much more at risk than all of this: there is the risk that filicide – the murder of a child at the hands of one of their parents – will occur. And this is the reality that we all keep in the forefront of our thoughts: child abductors have demonstrated their cleverness and willingness to scheme and break the law as exhibited by their criminal act of kidnapping, the vast majority of abductors kidnap their child because they have lost control of their emotions and use the child as a pawn for revenge against the other parent and are willing to go to nearly any length to cause pain and suffering to their target, even if it is at the expense of their own child, and conceivably, as has been demonstrated in various forms and ways as exhibited by the number of filicide cases, a parental child abductor could murder their own child as the ultimate act of revenge – especially when a child’s return to their country of original jurisdiction has been ordered or is imminent.”

For targeted parents who have had their children abducted to countries such as Japan, India, and Egypt, who are not members of the Hague Abduction Convention, Senate Resolution 543 made it clear that the United States legislative branch no longer is willing to sit idle while American children are kidnapped or illegally detained abroad while laws in their country and courts that oversee these laws do nothing to uphold the legitimate claims of law based upon a child’s original jurisdiction and the prevailing laws and court orders issued from such jurisdiction.

A portion of the preamble of Senate Resolution 543 reads:

Whereas Japan, India, and Egypt are not parties to the Hague Abduction Convention and were also among the top 10 countries to which children in the United States were most frequently abducted in 2011;

Whereas, in many countries, such as Japan and India, international parental child abduction is not considered a crime, and custody rulings made by courts in the United States are not typically recognized by courts in those countries; and

Whereas Japan is the only member of the Group of 7 major industrialized countries that has not yet become a party to the Hague Abduction Convention: Now, therefore, be it –

Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) sponsored Senate Resolution 543, which garnered 28 original cosponsors and passed the Senate by voice vote Tuesday evening. Senator Boxer has been the Congressional leader on this issue since 2006, consistently raising legislative awareness. The renown child advocate Senator Boxter said, “I am so proud that today (Tuesday evening, December 4th, 2012) the Senate took a stand to condemn the tragic and devastating crime of child abduction,” Senator Boxer said. “This resolution is a resounding call to the international community to join together to prevent and resolve abduction cases.”

Sentiment from several key United States Senators demonstrates a reshaping of Congress’ view on international parental child abduction with an intent to act.

“International child abduction is a tragic situation that impacts not only the parents who are left behind but also the children who have been illegally separated from them and denied any contact,” Senator Lugar said. “Bringing greater attention to this issue is important if we are to change other governments’ attitudes to these abductions.”

Senator Inhofe said,  “Unfortunately, some countries around the world are complicit in allowing these unacceptable acts.  The heart wrenching stories I have heard from parents is not just devastating for them, but destructive for the children.  It is time for the Senate to act in a way that will help end this injustice.  This well written measure is a high priority.  I encourage my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join in this effort.”

“International child abductions aren’t faceless crimes, they’re real and they’re tragic,” Senator Kerry said. “The United States must condemn international abductions and work to resolve them.  The international community must stand up and do all it can to make this right.”

New Jersey Senator Lautenberg said, “We need to gain the support of countries around the world in condemning this practice and agreeing to cooperate in the return of abducted children. This resolution will help us prevent these tragedies in the future.”

So now where do we go?

Well, obviously Senate Resolution 543 clearly indicates that the way our government, courts, and law enforcement handle international parental child abduction is not enough.  More – much more must be done as international child kidnapping spreads.

Prevention of abduction is critical.  This means that judges presiding over cases of abduction risk or act must become fully aware of the laws they oversee as well as the seriousness of this crime against children.  Education is critical.

The United States Senate has shared a very strong message: international parental child abduction is not a child custody case: it is criminal kidnapping, and it must be treated as such.

In addition, we need new laws that will help prevent abduction.  Two immediate legislative initiatives the I CARE Foundation is currently working on is to:

  1. Create a secondary secure screening list so that individuals possessing a right of U.S. citizenship and who are determined by courts or law enforcement to be high-risk child abductors  may be vetted prior to travel to ensure they are not abducting a child. This proposal is similar to the current Prevent Departure Program, which presently only permits the listing of individuals onto a secure screening list that do not possess a right of U.S. citizenship and who are in the United States.
  2. Under the current Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative Policy, American children are permitted to travel outside of the country by land or sea to adjoining nations such as Mexico, Canada, and certain Caribbean-Island nations by presenting only a photocopy of a naturalization document such as a photocopy of a birth certificate.  We call upon the mandatory use of valid passports for all children entering into or traveling from the United States.

Obviously, bolstering the Office of Children’s Issues resources and capability are critical.  And using direct and ongoing diplomatic efforts to bring countries to the table of the Hague Abduction Convention, and ensuring that they comply with the treaty are also critical.

Senator Boxter’s Senate Resolution 543 Cosponsors was a bipartisan effort and included Senators Feinstein, Blumenthal, Rubio, Durbin, Kirk, Lugar, Moran, Roberts, Landrieu, Kerry, Cardin, Mikulski, Blunt, Lautenberg, Menendez, Gillibrand, Inhofe, Merkley, Wyden, Casey, Toomey, Reed, Whitehouse, Johnson, Hutchinson, Leahy, Cantwell, and Murray.

We applaud and thank Senator Boxter and all the Senators who passed Resolution 543 yesterday.  This is a major step in the right direction toward protecting our nation’s children, and equally, in doing so, sending a message to other nations that they too, must protect their child citizens.

We do take note that the statistical numbers of the number of cases of abduction cited in the legislative resolution are not accurate in that the cited 2011 numbers reflect the number of reported abductions that occurred in the year 2010.  We also take note that it is believe that the number of unreported cases of international parental child abduction are between 100% and 125% of the reported cases of abduction.  Finally, we believe that it is important to note that to state that international parental child abduction is on the aggregate rise of over 25% per year from the last known cited reporting years of 2006 through 2010.  The represented number of abduction cases in the senate resolution demonstrates that there is a critical need for more current research and shared updated information concerning just how severe international child abduction is today.Again, we are thankful for everyone’s efforts in making Senate Resolution 543 a reality.

The full text of Senate Resolution 543 is below.

RESOLUTION

Whereas international parental child abduction is a tragic and common occurrence;

Whereas the abduction of a child by one parent is a heartbreaking loss for the left-behind parent and deprives the child of a relationship with 2 loving parents;

Whereas, according to the Report on Compliance with the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction of the United States Department of State from April 2010, research shows that abducted children are at risk of significant short and long-term problems, including “anxiety, eating problems, nightmares, mood swings, sleep disturbances, [and] aggressive behavior”;

Whereas, according to that report, left-behind parents may also experience substantial psychological and emotional issues, including feelings of “betrayal, sadness over the loss of their children or the end of their marriage, anger toward the other parent, anxiety, sleeplessness, and severe depression”, as well as financial strain while fighting for the return of a child;

Whereas, since 1988, the United States, which has a treaty relationship under the Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, done at The Hague October 25, 1980 (TIAS 11670) (referred to in this preamble as the “Hague Abduction Convention’’) with 69 other countries, has agreed with its treaty partners to follow the terms of the Hague Abduction Convention;

Whereas the Hague Abduction Convention provides a legal framework for securing the prompt return of wrongfully removed or retained children to the countries of their habitual residence where competent courts can make decisions on issues of custody and the best interests of the children;

Whereas, according to the United States Department of State, the number of new cases of international child abduction from the United States increased from 579 in 2006 to 941 in 2011;

Whereas, in 2011, those 941 cases involved 1,367 children who were reported abducted from the United States by a parent and taken to a foreign country;

Whereas, in 2011, more than 660 children who were abducted from the United States and taken to a foreign country were returned to the United States;

Whereas 7 of the top 10 countries to which children from the United States were most frequently abducted in 2011 are parties to the Hague Abduction Convention, including Mexico, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, Ecuador, Brazil, and Colombia;

Whereas Japan, India, and Egypt are not parties to the Hague Abduction Convention and were also among the top 10 countries to which children in the United States were most frequently abducted in 2011;

Whereas, in many countries, such as Japan and India, international parental child abduction is not considered a crime, and custody rulings made by courts in the United States are not typically recognized by courts in those countries; and

Whereas Japan is the only member of the Group of 7 major industrialized countries that has not yet become a party to the Hague Abduction Convention: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That—

(1) the Senate—

(A) condemns the international abduction of all children;

(B) urges countries identified by the United States Department of State as non-compliant or demonstrating patterns of noncompliance with the Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, done at The Hague October 25, 1980 (TIAS 11670) (referred to in this resolution as the “Hague Abduction Convention”) to fulfill their commitment under international law to expeditiously implement the provisions of the Hague Abduction Convention;

(C) calls on all countries to become a party to the Hague Abduction Convention and to promptly institute measures to equitably and transparently address cases of international parental child abduction; and

(D) calls on all countries that have not become a party to the Hague Abduction Convention to develop a mechanism for the resolution of current and future cases of international parental child abduction that occur before those countries become a party to the Hague Abduction Convention in order to facilitate the prompt return of children abducted to those countries to the children’s countries of habitual residence; and

(2) it is the sense of the Senate that the United States should—

(A) vigorously pursue the return of each child abducted by a parent from the United States to another country through all appropriate means, facilitate access by the left-behind parent if the child is not returned, and, where appropriate, seek the extradition of the parent that abducted the child;

(B) take all appropriate measures to ensure that a child abducted to a country that is a party to the Hague Abduction Convention is returned to the country of habitual residence of the child in compliance with the provisions of the Hague Abduction Convention;

(C) continue to use diplomacy to encourage other countries to become a party to the Hague Abduction Convention and to take the necessary steps to effectively fulfill their responsibilities under the Hague Abduction Convention;

(D) use diplomacy to encourage countries that have not become a party to the Hague Abduction Convention to develop an institutionalized mechanism to transparently and expeditiously resolve current and future cases of international child abduction that occur before those countries become a party to the Hague Abduction Convention; and

(E) review the advisory services made available to United States citizens by the United States Department of State, the United States Department of Justice, and other United States Government agencies—

(i) to improve the prevention of international parental child abduction from the United States; and

(ii) to ensure that effective and timely assistance is provided to United States citizens who are parents of children abducted from the United States and taken to foreign countries.

For more information on international parental child abduction, please click here.

Thank you –
Peter Thomas Senese
Founding Director
The I CARE Foundation

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