OPERATOR: Good morning, and thank you for standing by. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. After the presentation, we will conduct a question-and-answer session. To ask a question at that time, please press *1 and record your first and last name. Today’s conference is being recorded. If you have any objections, you may disconnect at this time.
I would now like to turn the call over to your host, Ms. Heide Fulton. Ma’am, you may begin.
MS. FULTON: All righty, thank you. And thanks, everybody, for joining us today. As you know, today is National Missing Children’s Day, and to commemorate or to highlight that event, we thought it would be very helpful to have our Special Advisor for Children’s Issues Ambassador Susan Jacobs talk to you about the State Department’s efforts to prevent international parental child abduction and to reunite abducted children back with their parents.
Ambassador Jacobs has traveled recently to Brazil and Guatemala. She’s going to be going to Haiti and The Hague very soon. So she looks at this issue on a global scale and can address some of the State Department efforts that we are pursuing to reunite children and families.
She’s not going to be able to talk about specific cases, so I just wanted to make that clear. This conversation will be on the record for full attribution, and we look forward to your questions after Ambassador Jacobs makes her statement. So at this time, I will turn it over to her.
AMBASSADOR JACOBS: Thank you, Heide. Thank you and good morning, everyone. As the State Department Special Advisor for Children’s Issues, I am pleased to recognize National Missing Children’s Day and to have this opportunity to speak with you about international parental child abduction. As a diplomat and also as a parent and a grandparent, the issue is very important to me.
Led by Secretary Clinton, the Department of State joins the Department of Justice and many other organizations across the country in commemorating National Missing Children’s Day. Today, we call attention to the plight of missing and abducted children around the world. The number of international parental child abduction cases reported to our office is sharply on the rise – a very disturbing trend. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports that family members abduct more than 200,000 children every year in the United States. Last year alone, parents abducted nearly 2,000 children to and from the United States.
International parental abductions affect American families throughout the United States and overseas. When an international border is involved, an already tragic situation for the children and left-behind parents is infinitely compounded. International parental abduction is a federal crime with long-term, damaging consequences for both parents and children, even when the cases are resolved. The children involved in these cases are at risk of serious emotional and psychological problems. Parents seeking the return of their children or permission to visit them confront unfamiliar legal, cultural, and linguistic barriers; they suffer emotional trauma; and they face significant and long-term financial costs.
Working with our embassies and consulates, and in cooperation with law enforcement and foreign central authorities, the Office of Children’s Issues assists children and parents in resolving these difficult cases. We serve as the central authority for the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, and we encourage other countries to join this convention because this international treaty provides a civil mechanism to promptly return children who are wrongfully removed or retained outside the United States in their – which is their country of habitual residence, and this is usually in violation of a parent’s custodial rights. Proceedings under the Hague Abduction Convention do not decide custody, which is a very common misunderstanding, but they decide in which country a custody decision should be based, and this is decided on where the child usually resides.
We are partners with about 70 countries in the convention, and when it’s properly implemented, the convention works. The Office of Children’s Issues oversees the daily implementation of the convention. We have almost a hundred employees in five different divisions, and Children’s Issues is one of the largest offices in the Bureau of Consular Affairs. And our office is also one of the most rapidly growing offices in the Department, which, sadly, reflects the growth of international child abduction. Our growth enables us to broaden our prevention activities, ensure consistently high standards of service, improving training, and engage more vigorously with other countries. And it also allows us to monitor and improve our own compliance with the convention.
One of our Hague partners is Brazil, and last week I met with Brazilian officials to discuss ways to speed the reunification of left-behind parents with their children. We urge Brazil to hasten their efforts to resolve these difficult cases in a timely manner through the Hague process. And we also agreed to establish a Children’s Issues Working Group to focus on these issues, and we will have our first meeting this summer.
Brazil is just one example of our cooperation with foreign governments to try to keep children safe. Our work also requires strong collaborative partnerships with nongovernmental organizations and law enforcement entities that include the FBI, Interpol, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Later on this afternoon, I and a lot of other people from Children’s Issues will attend an observance of National Missing Children’s Day at the Department of Justice. And this event will honor the efforts of law enforcement and citizens across the nation who recover missing children and combat child exploitation. And I want to thank you for your media’s – your media organization’s interest in honoring and bringing awareness of this issue to people throughout the United States and around the world. As Secretary Clinton said in a special videotaped message for National Missing Children’s Day that you can view at travel.state.gov, “Let’s continue to stand up, speak out, and do our part to keep our most vulnerable citizens safe, and let’s help children around the world come home.”
Thank you for listening, and I’m very happy now to take your questions.
OPERATOR: Thank you. If you would like to ask a question, please press *1. If you have muted your phone line, please un-mute and record your first and last name, as it is required to identify your line. To withdraw the request, press *2. Once again, to ask a question, please press *1. One moment for the first question.
The first question comes from Karin Zeitvogel. Your line is open.
QUESTION: Thank you. I’m from AFP, Agence France Presse. Yesterday, I was on the Hill for a hearing about left-behind parents, and they – almost to a mother and father, they were very critical of the OCI. So I – some of them even said that it was – when they first dealt with the OCI, they felt as if they were in the Department of Motor Vehicles, and we all know what that can be like. But I wondered what your reaction to this criticism is. They said that they felt that the State Department puts good bilateral relations with another country over recovering these children who have been taken illegally out of the United States.
AMBASSADOR JACOBS: Thank you for that question. I have to say that, unfortunately, I was in a lot of meetings yesterday; I was unable to observe the hearing, but I intend to watch it. I’m sorry, deeply sorry, that parents feel that we are not assisting them, because I can assure you that that is our goal. It’s to help them resolve these horrible problems.
QUESTION: Thank you.
OPERATOR: Once again, if you would like to ask a question, please press *1. One moment, please. At this time, there are no further questions.
Thank you for participating in today’s conference. You may disconnect at this time.