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International Family Abductions

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children® intakes reports about missing children, including children who have been abducted, wrongfully retained or concealed by a parent or other family member outside of the U.S. NCMEC also provides technical assistance regarding the prevention of international family abductions.

For more information about the services NCMEC can provide to searching families and law enforcement in cases of international family abduction visit the Missing Children section.

Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction

The United States is a signatory to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, (the "Hague Convention"), an international treaty that establishes a civil mechanism to ensure the prompt return of children wrongfully removed to or retained outside their country of habitual residence. From 1995 to April 2008 NCMEC fulfilled the functions of the U.S. Central Authority under the Hague Convention on "incoming cases" in which a parent abducts a child into the U.S. from a Treaty Partner Country.

The U.S. Department of State assumed primary responsibility over incoming Hague Convention abduction cases in April 2008; however, NCMEC continues to provide technical assistance and resources to parents, attorneys, judges and law enforcement officials involved in incoming Hague Convention cases. NCMEC also continues to maintain the International Child Abduction Attorney Network (ICAAN ), a network of attorneys who agree to consider pro bono representation in family abduction matters of all kinds, including Hague Convention and non-Hague Convention family abduction cases.

Federal laws

  • Federal law (42 U.S.C. § 5772) defines a "missing child" as "any individual less than 18 years of age whose whereabouts are unknown to such individual"s legal custodian."
  • Regardless of the reason why a child goes missing, federal law requires law enforcement agencies to respond in a specific way. Federal law prohibits law enforcement agencies from establishing or maintaining a waiting period before accepting a missing child report (42 U.S.C. § 5780). Federal law also requires law enforcement agencies to enter the missing child's information into the FBI's National Crime Information Center database and state law enforcement system database within two hours of receiving a missing child report (42 U.S.C. § 5780).
  • The federal International Child Abduction Remedies Act (ICARA) (42 U.S.C. §§ 11601-11610) implements the Hague Convention and authorizes state and federal courts to hear cases under this treaty when a child has been unlawfully brought into or retained in the United States.
  • The International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act ("IPKCA") (18 U.S.C. § 1204 ) makes it a crime to remove or attempt to remove a child younger than 16 years old from the U.S. or to retain a child who is in the U.S., with the intent to obstruct the lawful exercise of parental rights. Congress has clarified, through the Extradition Treaties Interpretation Act of 1998, that U.S. authorities shall interpret the term "kidnapping" to include parental kidnapping in any criminal extradition treaty to which the United States is a party.

The Fugitive Felon Act (18 U.S.C. § 1073) authorizes federal authorities to assist with the apprehension of state law fugitives, including those charged with parental kidnapping, through the issuance of a federal Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution (UFAP ) warrant.

State laws

Family abduction is recognized as a crime in every state, although individual state criminal laws vary widely. Under state law family abduction is described by a variety of names including custodial interference, custody deprivation, child stealing and parental kidnapping.

The basic elements in the state crime of family abduction are typically the wrongful taking or retention of a child in violation of a court order or other law, without a valid defense to make the conduct legal. For a comprehensive summary of state criminal custodial interference laws, refer to compilation of "Parental Kidnapping Statutes" located on the website of the National District Attorneys Association.

  • The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) has been adopted as state law by nearly every state and territory in the U.S. The UCCJEA provides clearer standards for the exercise of jurisdiction over child custody cases among the states and provides a specific, effective mechanism for enforcement of out-of-state custody orders, including custody orders from another country.
  • The Uniform Child Abduction Prevention Act (UCAPA) was introduced in 2006 to help courts identify children at risk of domestic and international abduction and provide numerous prevention measures a court can incorporate into a custody order. More than 10 states have adopted the UCAPA as state law and several other states have pending UCAPA legislation or enacted their own abduction prevention statutes.

For a comprehensive summary of state statutes and case law related to family abductions and missing children see NCMEC's guidebook titled Family Abduction : Prevention and Response and refer specifically to the state-by-state legal appendix, which also includes international abduction prevention information.

Other resources

For additional information about issues relating to international family abductions, you may want to review the following resources:
 State Department Office of Children's Issues  Annual Reports on Compliance with the Hague Convention, U.S. Department of State (1999-Present)  State Department, Office of the Legal Advisor, Annual Report of all "Treaties in Force"  Hague Conference on Private International Law  INCADAT  Law Library of Congress, Global Legal Monitor


Legal technical assistance

NCMEC provides legal technical assistance concerning international family abduction to parents/guardians, the attorneys who serve them, law enforcement and judicial officials including:

  • Information regarding possible referrals to assist with the prevention of and response to international family abduction.
  • Resources and assistance for attorneys representing parents/guardians and children.
  • Country-specific information and statistics regarding risks related to international family abduction and legal mechanisms for recovering a child abducted internationally.
  • Amicus briefs about particular issues that NCMEC is specially situated to address given its mission.

For additional information about NCMEC's legal resources concerning international family abduction contact NCMEC at 1-800-THE-LOST® (1-800-843-5678).

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