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School Holidays–Best Time For A Trip...Or Abduction?


By J.S. von Dacre –

Investigative Journalist of the International Criminal Court against Child Kidnapping



Term break is often the time when parents may take their kids abroad - but for separated/divorced parents, it can sometimes mean child abduction during the holidays...

​With spring firmly in the air, many families are already contemplating their summer holidays plans. Yet for other families, breaks away could spell something far more sinister than simply sun, sea and sand. With child abduction during the holidays on the rise, the months of June, July and August boast of the highest numbers for the year. Stories of children who go away with one parent on the pretense of a trip, only to not return, are not infrequent.


The media hand-feeds the paranoia about the dangers that lurk outside the household, with vented fury (rightly) placed on known pedophiles and murderers. Yet as horrific and harrowing as such cases are, there remains little focus on the danger that is firmly embedded within the confines of the household itself. 


Contrary to the popular “stranger danger” consensus, the majority of child abductions are committed by family members. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), reports that more than 200,000 children are abducted by family members each year, while only 115 reported child abductions were committed by strangers.


As child abduction during the holidays persists, there are often few legal remedies since there might not be sufficient sanctions in place. Some countries do not adhere to The Hague Convention’s policies regarding international abduction. Furthermore, sometimes there are no bilateral or international treaties in place between the two countries in regards to international abduction. The left-behind parent could face the uneasy position of having few avenues to pursue as the child may be subject to the custody laws in the country that he or she may have taken to. The ostracized parent may also discover that any previously issued custody decree, suddenly becomes invalidated and have little clout.


Even if the country has signed on to the Hague Convention, recovery of a child can still prove to be challenging. To further exacerbate the dilemma, significant delays can impact the likelihood of having the child returned to the country of their normal abode.


A survey conducted by the US Department Of Justice highlighted the challenges that parents faced with these flawed legal systems:


“More than three-fourths of respondents identified “American laws” as an obstacle, and about one-half considered them an obstacle that posed a high level of difficulty. This obstacle could be related to another reported obstacle—“ease of exiting the United States” with an abducted child.”


These problems also extended themselves to inexperienced lawyers and judges by stating:


“Nearly two-thirds of responding parents reported that a judge’s inexperience in dealing with international parental abduction cases was a major obstacle in the search for and recovery of their child. This finding reinforces earlier research, which indicated that three-fifths of U.S. judges had handled either no international parental abduction cases or just one case (Girdner, 1994b). In some cases, parents may also have been referring to a foreign judge’s refusal to enforce Hague Convention procedures. Other parents indicated frustration with foreign judges’ refusal to honor existing U.S. court orders regarding custody (which the judge would not be required to do) or with a U.S. judge’s unwillingness to issue protective measures.”


Amidst these crumbling legal ramifications that surround child abduction during the holidays, there still remains an elephant in the room. Even less attention is cast on the trauma and mental scars that will, no doubt, be permanently etched into the child’s psyche.


Studies have shown that recovered children exhibited symptoms of anxiety, eating problems, and nightmares (Hatcher, Barton, and Brooks, 1992); difficulty trusting other people, withdrawal, poor peer relations, regression, thumb sucking, and clinging behaviour (Schetky and Haller, 1983); and anger and resentment, guilt, and relationship problems in adulthood (Noble and Palmer, 1984).


Yet the fight for more stringent laws for child abduction remains at a stalemate and all that is left behind are the parents and children asking desperately, “Who is going to help us?”  


To learn more about the crime of parental child kidnapping and the help available to “left behind” parents, please visit the International Criminal Court against Child Kidnapping.

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