For Law Enforcement
International Parental Child Abduction
International parental child abduction is a global problem, which often has harmful effects on both the children and their families. Law enforcement at the state and federal levels has a role to play in outgoing and incoming child abduction cases. Coordination amongst the Department of State, Local and/or Federal law enforcement, and the U.S. National Central Bureau – INTERPOL (USNCB-INTERPOL), significantly improves the chances of preventing an abductor from leaving the country, intercepting an abductor abroad, and finding an abducted child in the United States.
The Office of Children’s Issues
Within the Department of State, the Office of Children’s Issues (CA/OCS/CI) assists parents whose children have been abducted to and from foreign countries. CA/OCS/CI also helps parents who believe that their children are in danger of being abducted. Country Officers provide information for parents and/or legal guardians that they can use to identify options—both criminal and civil—to pursue the return of their abducted children. In doing so, CA/OCS/CI works closely and cooperatively with a wide range of U.S. and foreign entities, including law enforcement, non-Governmental organizations, and foreign governments.
CA/OCS/CI can provide law enforcement personnel with general information about U.S. passports, visas, foreign custody and immigration laws, travel restrictions, crime and security information, as well as help to confirm exit and entry information. CA/OCS/CI can also identify for police other resources within the United States and in foreign governments.
International Parental Child Abduction – First Steps
A law enforcement officer’s initial actions can play a key role in preventing an attempted international parental child abduction and in the safe recovery of the child. In an outgoing abduction situation, regardless of where the child is suspected to have been taken, law enforcement are required by law to respond without delay and enter the child’s name into the NCIC Missing Person File. This should be done without regard to which law enforcement agency – State or Federal - will take the lead on the case.
The FBI has concurrent jurisdiction to make NCIC entries in missing children cases, and are required by law to do so promptly if they are the left-behind parent’s first point of contact. Having the child recorded into NCIC plays a vital role in both preventing the child’s abduction from the United States, and locating the child internationally. The two laws below directly address the requirement for Law Enforcement to enter the child into NCIC.
Missing Children Act, 28 U.S.C. 534:
Law enforcement is required to enter complete descriptions of missing children into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) Missing Person File, even if the abductor has not been charged with a crime. A custody order is not required to enter a child into the Missing Person File.
National Child Search Assistance Act (NCSA), 42 U.S.C. 5779 and 42 U.S.C. 5780:
The NCSA requires local, state and federal law enforcement agencies to enter information about missing children younger than age 21 into NCIC within two hours or receiving a missing person report.
If foreign officials receive proper notice, abductors who succeed in leaving the United States may be stopped as they enter, leave, or transit through another country. Law Enforcement can initiate this process with the NCIC entry for the child, and by contacting the state INTERPOL liaison or USNCB-INTERPOL in Washington directly.
It is important for law enforcement to contact the State Department so that appropriate steps can be taken to safeguard the child if the abductor is stopped abroad. The State Department can also connect law enforcement to resources in the Department of Justice for further assistance.
Please Note: USNCB-INTERPOL can make NCIC entries for children abducted to the United States based on an informal request, diffusion, or Yellow Notice from the foreign INTERPOL counterpart.
Seeking Criminal Charges
The United States has criminalized international parental child abduction, or attempts to kidnap a child, at the State and Federal levels.
State Criminal Charges
Parental kidnapping or interference with custody is a felony in most states. Law Enforcement and parents should check the State criminal code under Parental Kidnapping, custodial interference, child abduction, child stealing, and similar terms to identify the appropriate statute.
Federal Criminal Charges
International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act (IPKCA), 18 U.S.C. 1204
This law makes it a felony to remove, or attempt to remove, a child younger than 16 from the U.S., or to retain the child outside the United States with the intent to obstruct the lawful exercise of parental rights.
Fugitive Felon Act (1980), Note 18 U.S.C. 1073:
Enacted as part of the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act (PKPA) this law authorizes the issuance of federal Fugitive Felon Warrants (also known as “UFAP” or Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution warrants) in parental kidnapping cases when the abductor has fled the state, or the United States, to avoid prosecution.
Law Enforcement Role in the Civil Aspect of International Child Abduction
The PKPA also authorizes law enforcement to use the Federal Parent Locator Service (“FPLS”) of the Department of Health and Human Services to locate abducted children and abducting parents. This is a civil statute.
Law enforcement in most states has authority under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act to locate a child or a party and to assist designated public authorities with international and interstate child abduction cases. The law allows but does not require designated public authorities to enforce custody determinations and to bring Hague Convention cases. Public officials act on behalf of the court and may not represent any party. More information about the UCCJEA and the role or prosecutors and law enforcement in abduction cases can be found here. Information about how California prosecutors resolve international child abduction cases is available here.
Passport Information and Law Enforcement
With criminal warrants, law enforcement can work with the Department of State to obtain passport information, flag passport applications, and request passport revocations. These services can be useful for preventing abductions and for dealing with ongoing abduction cases. For more information on how law enforcement can request this information, visit our website on Passport Information for Law Enforcement Officers. For additional information on flagging children’s passport applications please visit our website on the Child Passport Issuance Alert Program.
Information for Law Enforcement Officials
The State Department is the U.S. Central Authority for the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. As the Central Authority, the Department can help coordinate all aspects of U.S. government involvement when a child has been removed from the United States to another Hague member country.
The 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction provides a civil remedy for parents whose children have been abducted to a country that is a party to the treaty and with which the United States has a treaty partnership (click here for further information about the Convention and a list of partner countries).
The Convention calls for the prompt return of a wrongfully removed or retained child to the child’s country of habitual residence. The country of habitual residence is where the court with proper jurisdiction can make a custody determination concerning the child. It is important to note that that filing criminal charges against the taking parent may hamper the return of a child if civil proceedings are taking place under The Convention. [H3] For example, some judges may not want to order the return of a child to their habitual residence if the taking parent will be put in jail upon return.
If you are handling an abduction case involving a Hague Convention country, please contact the Office of Children’s Issues (CA/OCS/CI) to determine whether the left-behind parent has filed a Hague petition. CA/OCS/CI can help you and the parent understand the possible impact of criminal charges on a Hague case, or on other foreign civil proceedings. A list of the United States’ current Hague partners can be found here.
Part of the State Department’s obligation as the U.S. Central Authority is to also respond to cases of children abducted from foreign Hague countries into the United States. CA/OCS/CI works to locate missing children in the United States with the assistance of Missing Persons Clearinghouses in all 50 states including Puerto Rico. For a link to the Missing Persons Clearinghouse in your state, please click the link here:
If you are contacted by a parent who is residing in a foreign, Hague country, please feel free to direct that parent to CA/OCS/CI and/or your state’s Missing Persons Clearinghouse.
Visit the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s website for additional resources, including a law enforcement manual for investigating child abduction cases.
Office of Children's Issues at the U.S. Department of State
Country officers are available to speak with you Monday - Friday, 8:15 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. For assistance with an abduction in progress or any emergency situation that occurs after normal business hours, on weekends, or federal holidays, please call toll free at 1-888-407-4747. See all contact information.