United States Reported Outbound Child Abduction Rate Drops By 12.23 %
The 2013 reported number of outbound cases and actual number of reported child victims of international parental child abduction originating from the United States has significantly declined during 2013. Remarkably, this is the fourth consecutive year in a row (reporting years 2009-2013) that the United States international parental child abduction outbound rate has declined. According to the 2014 Department of State’s Hague Compliance Report to Congress, there was a 12.23% decline in the actual number of reported child victims of international parental kidnapping representing a reduction of 140 children. In addition, there was a 12.14% decline in the number of reported cases of abduction representing a caseload decline of 97 cases. The decline in the reported cases and number of child victims being removed from the United States is an anomaly: worldwide the vast majority of countries reporting incidents of international parental child abduction as defined by the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention continues to surge at pandemic rates, with the average annual child abduction growth rate forecasted at over 20% per year.
Despite the significant decline in the reported outbound decline in the abduction rate of American children originating from the United States, we caution that international parental child abduction (herein referred to as ‘IPCA’) remains a severe, highly abusive, and potentially deadly crime that targets thousands of American children and hundreds of thousands of children around the world each year. The fact remains that IPCA is a highly abusive criminal act against a child that places the child in great physical and emotional danger, and could jeopardize the child’s life.
In the United States and abroad our reality remains 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 significance in the 12.23% decline in individual cases of IPCA during 2013 should not be minimized, nor should the remarkable 38.06% reported decline in the number of reported individual outbound cases originating from the United States over the past four reporting years (2009-2013). In fact, statistically these are remarkable gains and exemplify the tremendous leadership and dedication first and foremost demonstrated by the Department of State’s Office of Children’s Issues, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Department of Justice combined with a collective array of child abduction prevention stakeholders who have had a significant impact not only raising awareness amongst potentially targeted families of abduction, but who have created or helped create new laws, policies, or protocols capable of stopping international parental child abduction.
The fact the United States IPCA rate continues to decline despite heavily contradicting global trends found in other nations combined with increases in the population, including growth amongst the immigration migration sector, clearly indicates the immense efforts put forth by stakeholders working to stop child abduction is working. Nevertheless, there is a great deal that can and must be done to better protect at-risk children while also increasing efforts to reunite abducted children.
On a sober note, we acknowledge that fewer child victims of IPCA come home to their country of original jurisdiction and the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention process is taking longer than in previous years. Neither the failure to return children or the long delay times related to litigation are country specific: these are internal issues for every country and are not specific challenges faced solely by American citizens, but by all left behind parents. Thus, we re-emphasize our belief that the most efficient way to protect a child from IPCA is to prevent their abduction from occurring.
A look at the previous years statistics tells a compelling child abduction prevention effort taking place in the United States of America.
Specifically, during 2013 there were a total of 702 reported cases of international parental child abduction representing 1004 children. Previously, 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. 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. In 2010 there were 1022 reported cases of international parental child abduction representing 1,492 children. And in 2009 there were 1,135 cases of international parental child abduction representing 1,621 children.
When considering previous extensive growth in the United States reported outbound cases of IPCA coupled with the reality that cross-border child abduction continues to surge worldwide, the decline in the outbound abduction rate of American children is noteworthy.
In fact, the reported number of individual child victims of IPCA declined in 2010 by 8% (1,492 child victims from 1,621 child victims reported in 2009), 8.49% in 2011 (1,367 children), to a landmark decline of 16.3% in 2012 (1,144 children), followed by a 12.23% drop in 2013 (1,004 child victims).
These statistical declines become more apparent when viewing the years collectively. For example, there was a 38.06% decline in the reported outbound IPCA rate over the five-year period of 2009 through 2013. During this five-year period, the number of reported child victims of IPCA declined from 1,621 in 2009 to 1,004 child victims in 2013. This represents a differential gain of 617 children who were protected from IPCA during 2013 in comparison to 2009. In addition, for the same reporting period there was a 38.15% decline in the number of reported family cases of IPCA (Note: a family case may consist of one or more children) representing a remarkable drop of 433 reported cases over the five-year period.
A comparative chart below provides further insight on the efforts to protect American children from IPCA taking place in the United States.
To put into perspective the significance in the reported 2013 decline in the reported cases of international parental child abduction and the fourth consecutive significant reduction in the cross-border kidnapping rate, it is important to note that previous to the 2009 fiscal year reported numbers, the international parental child abduction rate grew on average by nearly 20% per year the previous decade. In addition, the United States witnessed a yearly increase in population of approximately 2,400,000 people during 2008 – 2013, with an estimated 1,000,000 of these individuals newly arrived immigrants. We take exceptional note to the ongoing increases in the American immigration population due to the fact that many individuals who parentally abduct (referred to as a ‘Taking Parent’) were born and previously raised in a foreign country but relocated to the United States.
It is important to note that the unreported cases of international parental child abduction remain a very troubling area not just in the United States, but worldwide. However, we believe that outreach efforts by the United States Department of State, The I CARE Foundation, and the National Center For Missing & Exploited Children are in fact reaching communities who previously would not turn for assistance under the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention. And though there is no specific way to determine the unreported cases of IPCA, we believe there has been an increased awareness amongst communities who may previously may not have sought assistance to 1) become more aware of IPCA warning signs, 2) IPCA prevention measures, and 3) to turn to the Department of State’s Office of Children’s Issues for assistance.
It is our belief that the previously less proactive communities who may have traditionally believed that they were unable to protect against IPCA have begun to mobilize and become more proactive in protecting their children.
It is our assessment that due to the mobilization of parents who may have previously been less active to prevent IPCA, that it is conceivable that the overall reported outbound rate of IPCA (when considering both reported and unreported cases) may have dropped more than the 12.23% reported rate of abduction.
While there is much to be pleased about regarding the significant decline in reported outbound American IPCA rate, the reality is that many children who are internationally abducted do not come home, and the statistical trend of available data clearly demonstrates that the number of children worldwide being returned to their country of original jurisdiction continues to decline.
EXTREME DIFFICULTIES IN RECOVERING AN ABDUCTED CHILD
There are abundant reasons why it is very difficult for child-victims of IPCA to be returned to their country of original jurisdiction. They include, but are not limited to the following:
1. Amongst signatory countries to the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention, litigation proceedings and tactics by the Taking Parent and their counsel often deploy techniques to circumvent Article 1 (Expeditious Return Provision), while over-utilizing Article 13 b (Best Interest Provision). This is not a U.S. problem but a global issue all left-behind parents face. In addition, courts and the judiciary overseeing IPCA proceedings have taken a rather long-arm approach to Article 12 of the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention. The end result, as reported by a 2011 Hague Special Commission is that the average litigation period needed to make a determination has increased to 338 days as compared to 188 days; and,
2. The reality is that attorneys familiar with Hague law often litigate before untrained judges who are not keenly aware of the spirit and intent of the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention. Trained attorney-specialist familiar with the protocols of the child abduction treaty have successfully implemented litigation techniques created to extend or delay the court proceedings outside of the spirit of Article 1 of the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention. In implementing calculated strategies before judges not familiar with the treaty or who may not intend to follow the rules established under the treaty, Taking Parents have been remarkably successful in being able to not only remain in the inbound country they have relocated to, but in many circumstances, limit the rights of the child to have contact with the other parent. This phenomenon appears to occur equally amongst men and women; and,
3. Judges are often not trained on how to deal with IPCA cases nor are they familiar with the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention. Because of a lack of training and education amongst the judiciary, many children around the world simply are not returned and the intent of the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention is being marginalized. As an example of the problems best exemplified by an untrained judiciary, the United States has over 10,000 family court judges able to hear an IPCA case. The vast majority of these judges have no or extremely limited experience dealing with Hague matters. The average litigation period for cases being heard in the United States is 338 days. In comparison, in the United Kingdom there are 17 judges who handle Hague cases. The average litigation period for cases heard in the United Kingdom has been reported at 49 days; and,
4. Many nations do not comply with or uphold the spirit of the convention (ex, Brazil, Mexico, Germany); and,
5. Many countries have not signed the convention (China, India, Saudi Arabia etc); and
6. Chasing Parents may not have an idea what country their child was taken to; and,
7. 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,
8. 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,
9. 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.
There are many reasons why the reported United States outbound rate of IPCA is declining. Collectively, the primary reason is that efforts by government agencies and non-government agencies have increased efforts to not only raise awareness amongst potential targeted parents of IPCA, but educational outreach directed toward key stakeholders such as the judiciary, attorneys, law enforcement, and policymakers has made a major difference. The following are some important reasons why outbound cases IPCA is declining in the United States, while inbound cases are rising.
1. There is an increased social awareness of IPCA, including awareness of warning signs and how to act in the event of a potential threat; and,
2. Targeted parents at risk of having a child abducted have become more proactive in protecting their children; and,
3. The Department of State’s Office of Children’s Issues has become an exemplary child abduction prevention advocacy program under the guidelines available to all Central Authorities under the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention. Increased personal, extensive information via the Internet, and public outreach along with the ability to implement and take control of an assortment of abduction prevention programs such as the Passport Issuance Alert Program have been extremely beneficial.
4. Inter-agency cooperation amongst the Department of State and other agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security have been extremely impactful. An example of this type of cooperation is found in the Prevent Departure Program.
5. There is a strong core of NGO activism that has helped raise awareness of IPCA and provided outreach that government agencies are unable to.
6. Courts and judges presiding over abduction prevention cases are acting with increased prudence when determining whether a child is a target of IPCA, including determining if a child should be allowed to travel, an assortment of passport-related issues, etc.; and,
7. The I CARE Foundation’s International Travel Child Consent Form has become a globally effective tool in preventing a child’s wrongful detention abroad while also protecting against the wrongful use of Article 12 and Article 13 b; and,
8. There is increased cooperation amongst law enforcement to assist targeted parents of abduction; and,
9. United States lawmakers and policy administrators are taking a proactive stance against IPCA and this stand is having a trickle down effect amongst other stakeholders including judges, law enforcement, and child therapist, etc.
The 10. The social media blogosphere of parent-bloggers has substantially increased awareness of IPCA.
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.
In June, 2013 the United States Department of Justice issued a report stating that children who are victims of parental child abduction face increased abuse, including severe physical and emotional abuse at the hands of their parent abductor.
We strongly point that filicide - parental child murder - is a real threat to all children of abduction.
In addition, 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.”
We recall the words of Ms. Patricia Hoff who currently oversees the United States Department of State's Hague Attorney Network, who previously stated, “Because of the harmful effects on children, parental kidnapping has been characterized as a form of “child abuse” while the acting Legal Director for the Parental Abduction Training and Dissemination Project, American Bar Association on Children and the Law. Ms. Hoff also had stated, “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.”
The I CARE Foundation agrees completely with the sentiments shared above.
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.
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.
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.
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.
IPCA remains a serious problem worldwide. The challenges of parental child abduction prevention and reunification have no border. As an organization dedicated to preventing IPCA, we take note of the decline in the 2013 IPCA rate and acknowledge that since the leadership of the I CARE Foundation began extensive advocacy to combat IPCA, the overall outbound rate of IPCA against American children has declined by over 38%. In our efforts to raise awareness of IPCA amongst families worldwide, combined with our efforts associated with utilization of the Prevent Departure Program, the global use of the groundbreaking I CARE Foundation’s International Travel Child Consent Form, and our work to create and implement numerous state laws created to protect children, we believe that there is substantial positive change on the horizon.
The I CARE Foundation’s role in fighting IPCA has been measurable. We would also like to acknowledge that as far as working to protect children from abduction all advocates are in this together.
There remains a great deal of work to do.