What is an International Child Abduction?

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  • Written By: Patrick Roland
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 24 May 2020
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Often referred to as parental kidnapping, child snatching, child stealing, and even "legal" kidnapping, international child abduction is the removal of a minor from its home to another country. This form of abduction poses a problem with legal systems because of the multiple jurisdictions, laws, and court systems involved. Although the legal aspects are complicated, governments have taken steps to work together to combat this type of kidnapping and provide solutions for victims. Experts suggest this type of trafficking has serious effects on a child's physical and mental state as well.

International child abduction occurs whenever one individual or multiple individuals are taken across a country's border by an adult without the permission of a child's legal guardian. This event happens when strangers kidnap children, but the term frequently refers to a much more complicated family matter. In a number of these cases, children are taken to another country by someone who has or once had custodial rights such as a parent. Because of the possible relationship, children are not always removed against their will, thus significantly complicating matters.

Conflicting jurisdictions are a major hurdle for most court cases involving international child abduction. The way one country prosecutes child abduction is frequently different from the how it is handled in another country. This also brings into question the issue of what country can legal try a kidnapping case when a child is taken across multiple borders. Adding to the confusion, countries often put accused kidnappers on trial separately and can come to completely different conclusions about guilt or innocence.

In the 1970s, this became an international issue that saw several nations begin working together to avoid international child abduction conflicts. The Hague Convention was the biggest evolution in international kidnapping law, encouraging a number of countries to establish similar processes to rescue kidnapped children. In addition, this Convention also encouraged governments to establish a single office responsible for two-way communication between countries involved in abduction cases.

Beyond the legal difficulties international child abduction cases pose, they also create a risk to the children involved not only for their immediate safety and welfare, but in the long-term effects of kidnapping. Physical and mental effects including depression, anger, disconnection from community, fear of abandonment are concerns in this kind of situation. Because of these short-term and long-term dangers, many countries consider child abduction, whether international or not, to be a form of child abuse.

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