Did you know that today is National Missing Children’s Day?
Each year on May 25th, we take the chance to highlight a lesser known but all-too common scenario that affects hundreds of families each year: international parental child abduction (IPCA). The Department’s Office of Children’s Issues plays a vital role in preventing international parental abductions and aiding the return of abducted children to their country of habitual residence as quickly as possible.
What is IPCA?
When a parent learns their child has been taken or kept abroad without their consent and against their custody rights, it’s not just a “family matter”; it’s IPCA. They might lose all contact, preventing the parent from having a relationship with the child and leaving them in the dark on their child’s wellbeing. Attempting to fix the issue through a custody claim in a foreign court can be frustrating, costly, and time-consuming. While IPCA is a crime in the United States, this is not always the case overseas, and pursuing criminal charges might not be possible.
That is why the United States was one of the first countries to sign the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. This treaty lays out a universal framework for the civil remedy of IPCA cases. Its fundamental principle is that a child’s best interests should be decided in their country of habitual residence. In addition, their return should be ordered swiftly by a court in order to limit trauma to the child. The Convention requires that signatory countries establish a Central Authority to manage IPCA cases and implement the Convention process.
As the U.S. Central Authority, the Office of Children’s Issues takes our commitment to families and treaty obligations seriously. We aid parents through the Hague Convention process and seek alternatives in non-partner countries. In 2022, we facilitated the return of 165 children to their homes in the United States.
Tools to Prevent IPCA
We offer important tools that parents can use to help prevent their child from being abducted to a foreign country. In 2022, we enrolled more than 3,500 children in the Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program, bringing the total number enrolled to more than 62,400. Equally important, the Prevent Abduction Program works to stop a child from leaving the United States through partnership with law enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. We enrolled 307 children in 2022, an increase of 18 percent from 2021. Consider applying for these options for your child if you believe they are at risk of IPCA.
We’re Here for You
Under the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction, Prevention, and Return Act, we work with Congress to drive IPCA matters to the front of American diplomatic engagement, encouraging new partnerships under the Convention, pushing non-compliant partner countries to improve, and publishing our findings in the Annual and Action Reports on International Parental Child Abduction.
The Department has no higher priority than ensuring the safety and security of citizens abroad, including children and families affected by international parental child abduction. Through the Hague Convention and cooperation with Congress, federal, state, and private partners, and foreign governments, we continuously strive to serve the interests of children around the world.
Visit our website to learn more about the Convention, steps you can take to prevent the abduction of your child, and resources that you can use in abduction cases.
About the Author: Michelle Bernier-Toth serves as Special Advisor for Children’s Issues in the Bureau of Consular Affairs, where she actively engages with foreign government officials across the globe to protect the welfare and interests of children, parents, and prospective adoptive parents involved in international parental child abduction or intercountry adoptions. She has served in Damascus, Syria; Doha, Qatar; and Abu Dhabi, UAE, as well as in domestically in the Bureau of Consular Affairs, the Foreign Service Institute, and the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.