Smith Introduces the Philips-Davenport International Child Abduction Return Act

News Item

A new source of hope for left behind parents
Smith Introduces the Philips-Davenport International Child Abduction Return Act

Washington, Jul 28, 2017
Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), author of the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act (P.L 113-150), introduced an innovative new bill that will automatically remove tariff benefits for countries that are found to be out of compliance in returning children home—the “Bindu Philips and Devon Davenport International Child Abduction Return Act of 2017.”
“Bindu Philips fought valiantly in India for over eight years for the return of her abducted twin sons, only to be given the incessant delays in India’s courts and little support from the Obama Administration,” said Smith, Chair of the House panel on global human rights. “Just recently, she was finally granted a short visit with her children in India, but the children’s father marred the time with harassment and monitoring, refusing to let the children and mother leave a hotel for 7 days.
“Devon Davenport has had a return order for his daughter, Nadia, from Brazil since 2009. He has won every single one of the 24 appeals against the order—but Brazil still will not enforce its own return order.
“Shockingly, 11 of the 13 countries found to be non-compliant in the annual Goldman Report by the U.S. State Department in the return of abducted American children are still receiving billions of dollars in tariff exemptions under the Generalized System of Preferences. We must cease rewarding countries that aid abductors. When is enough finally enough?”
In 2016, 629 American children were taken from the United States by one parent without the consent of the other, often in direct violation of valid United States court orders, United States criminal law and the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The Obama Administration’s refusal to apply sanctions against countries that fail to return abducted children has led to a rate of return of only 16%.
“For years, the U.S. government response to abductions has been an engraved invitation to abductors,” said Smith. “Abductors have an 84% chance of no penalty for ripping their child from home and family in the United States. It is my hope and expectation that this year, the State Department will begin to act more decisively on behalf of American families so that more children come home.”
The new bill amends the Generalized System of Preferences, a trade program designed to promote economic growth in the developing world through duty free entry for some products, so that any country named as non-compliant in the prompted resolutions of abductions would lose trade benefits granted by the United States. The new legislation ensures that the loss of trade preference would be automatic and not dependent on the Executive Branch applying sanctions.
Abducted children in a foreign country are often blocked from any contact with the American parent, losing half of their family and heritage.  Such children are also at grave risk of serious emotional and psychological problems. Many such children experience anxiety, eating problems, nightmares, mood swings, aggressive behavior, resentment and fear. Every day the abduction continues only compounds these harms.
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Source:  “Smith Introduces the Philips-Davenport International Child Abduction Return Act”, News Item, Congressman Chris Smith’s website, published on 28 July 2017

 

Most kidnapped children are taken by a parent. That doesn’t mean they’re safe

Most kidnapped children are taken by a parent. That doesn’t mean they’re safe

 

By Jane K. Stoever July 21
Jane K. Stoever is a clinical professor of law and director of the domestic violence clinic at University of California, Irvine School of Law.

When my client told me her abusive ex-boyfriend had shown up after a long absence, beaten her and kidnapped their children, I assumed the police would respond quickly and issue Amber alerts. But a D.C. police officer refused even to write a report, dismissing the complaint as a “private family matter” and opining, “What safer place for the children than with their dad?”
We were met with similar indifference from the child-abduction unit supervisor, who pondered, “Isn’t possession nine-tenths of the law?” (No, it’s not.)
The reaction of the judge in the family court’s domestic violence unit was equally alarming. She incorrectly questioned whether she had jurisdiction, now that the children were several states away. And when she learned that my client had declined her ex-boyfriend’s marriage proposal, and that he’d texted that if she wanted to see their children again she would agree to marry him, the judge said, “Aw, it sounds like he’s just heartbroken.”
Eventually, persuaded by my clinical law student’s recitation of the applicable law and by my client’s visible bruises, the judge entered a temporary protection order that awarded my client custody of the children. After several days on the road, the ex-boyfriend said he would return with the children if my client would not pursue criminal charges for abduction. She desperately wanted her children back home with her and readily agreed.

I was relieved — but also disheartened that the justice system seemed to care so little about the plight of these children who had been abducted by their abusive, estranged father.

(Asked by The Washington Post this past week about parental abductions, a D.C. police spokeswoman said that the department “treats each missing persons case with seriousness and utmost zeal. We use the press, social media and a variety of other avenues to locate missing children as quickly as possible.”)
On the other side of the country, when I began representing abuse survivors in California five years ago, I saw the same state refusal to respond to abductions committed by abusive parents. One client found our domestic violence law clinic after her abuser reported her to immigration authorities, fled with their infant and went to extreme lengths to hide. His actions violated multiple laws. Moreover, we had serious concerns about the baby’s safety — our client had been granted a domestic violence green card because of the life-threatening abuse she experienced from this man. Yet several police departments refused to take a police report on the kidnapping, even when presented with evidence of the man’s domestic violence convictions. I had to read aloud to a police chief the criminal-code section detailing how taking, withholding or concealing a child from someone who has a lawful right to the child is the definition of child abduction. Even with a police report, though, the district attorney’s office did not act.

The case haunted my students in the legal clinic, my co-teacher and me. “Have you found my baby yet?” our client asked every time we spoke with her. And so we continued to search for possible leads, hired private investigators, hung “missing child” posters throughout the region and engaged in a media campaign that, one year after the baby went missing, proved key to recovering her.
Our society fixates on “stranger danger.” Popular media portrays abductors as pedophiles, serial killers and other strangers who prey on children. Parental and societal fears are fueled by the well-known murders of Danielle van Dam, Adam Walsh, Polly Klaas, Samantha Runnion and Carlie Brucia, and the stories of Elizabeth Smart, Erica Pratt and Jaycee Dugard, who lived to tell of their kidnappings.
But contrary to the dominant narrative, nearly all child abductions are perpetrated by family members. Stranger abductions — certainly alarming and tragic — actually occur with “lightning-strike rarity,” as a report in the journal Criminal Justice Studies put it, in contrast to the more than 200,000 parental abductions committed each year that meet the criminal criteria and are not merely delayed visitations or misunderstandings.

That might seem reassuring, but it shouldn’t be. Abduction by a parent can pose significant risk to a child’s safety and well-being. And for the domestic violence survivor whose child is abducted, this is the ultimate form of abuse.
Parental abduction frequently is part of a larger dynamic of domestic violence. Most left-behind parents report that the abductor physically abused them, threatened their lives and threatened to kidnap the child before doing so. Particularly when the victimized parent seeks to end the relationship, abusive partners commit abduction as a way to exert control, fulfill a quest for revenge or hurt them. And it works. Left-behind victims report that the trauma of losing their children far exceeds any physical, sexual or mental abuse they experienced during the relationship.

Abusive abductors may also be motivated by a fear of losing custody or a desire to gain custody of a child. Because such scenarios are common, and parental abductions occur in families in discord, police often dismiss complaints as messy family situations, assume complainants are overreacting or think that parents are embellishing reports of parental abduction to further their own custody claims.

Domestic violence is also a motivating factor in a smaller number of abduction cases in which an abused parent seeks to safeguard a child from harm. Abuse survivors who flee with their children tend to do so when the courts and law enforcement have failed to provide needed protection.
As with stranger abduction, children kidnapped by their parents are often traumatized and harmed. Unsurprisingly, these children face greater physical danger when the abducting parent has a history of perpetrating domestic violence. A Justice Department study concluded that one-third of children abducted by a parent suffer serious sexual, physical or mental harm, with many more children experiencing other emotional and physical trauma. The abducting parent’s deception, which may involve adopting a fugitive lifestyle, creates its own set of problems. Children may be pulled out of school, denied medical attention, coached to lie and warned away from making friends. While some abducting parents return children on their own and some left-behind parents succeed in their self-initiated efforts, 20 percent of abducted children remain missing for more than a month, and some are never recovered.
These kidnappings can end tragically. In one prominent case, Simon Gonzales violated a restraining order and abducted his three daughters in Colorado in 1999. Their mother sought help from police seven times on the phone and twice in person in the hours that followed, but she was rebuffed with comments such as, “At least you know the children are with their father.” Gonzales went to a police station that night and opened fire. After a shootout, police found the bodies of the three girls inside his truck.
Despite the harms of parental abduction, and state and federal laws prohibiting parental kidnapping and custodial interference, these crimes are not typically viewed as requiring legal intervention. Police response and prosecution are rare.
The Justice Department reports that although an estimated 155,800 children are victims of “serious” parental abductions each year, only 30,500 police reports are officially registered, 9,200 cases are officially opened in prosecutors’ offices, an estimated 4,500 arrests for parental abduction are made, and 3,500 criminal complaints are filed. In a national survey of law enforcement offices, about half of the 17,000 responding offices said they always refuse to take a missing-child report for a parentally abducted child, instead viewing it as a private family issue or a matter for family court.
The failure to initiate investigations, take reports or obtain photographs is contrary to national guidelines recommending that police be immediately dispatched in response to all complaints of missing or abducted children. Police often instead misinform parents that the child has to be taken across state lines or be missing for a specified period of time before they can respond. Parental abductions most often occur during scheduled visitation with the non-custodial parent, so police instruct the left-behind parent to wait, presuming the issue will resolve itself. However, the first few hours are crucial for locating an abducted child, and any delay favors abductors.
The reluctance to intervene does not reflect legal gray areas. Although the 1932 Federal Kidnapping Act, which made abduction a federal offense, excluded parental abduction based on the presumption that parents always act out of concern for their children, numerous federal and state laws now address parental abduction. For instance, the 1990 National Child Search and Assistance Act prohibits law enforcement agencies from creating waiting periods before accepting a missing-child report, regardless of custody status. Congress went further with the International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act of 1993 and the Uniform Child Abduction Prevention Act of 2006. Current laws could be improved — especially at the state level, where some states require preexisting custody orders to act and others lack family violence defenses — but the failure to implement and enforce existing laws is the first hurdle.
So how can the failure of legal authorities to respond to parental abduction be explained? Although domestic violence is increasingly recognized as a serious crime, we still tend to be socialized to believe that danger lurks outside the home and that harm doesn’t often occur within a family. Violent crimes committed by strangers garner significantly more resources and attention, and are more likely to lead to arrests and prosecution, than identical crimes committed against family members or intimate partners.
At the same time, our society longs for parental engagement, especially by fathers. Judges tend to reward fathers who demonstrate interest in custody of their children — overlooking histories of domestic abuse.
Gendered and racialized intervention practices are also telling. The majority of parents who abduct their children, including abusive abductors, are white men . Yet women are more likely than men to be convicted and incarcerated for abduction-related offenses, even when they are fleeing to protect their children from family violence. Studies show that police and courts trivialize and distrust legal complaints from women but don’t apply the same skepticism to complaints from men.
And beyond the context of parental abduction, the state has shown itself to be more comfortable targeting, regulating and punitively intruding on families of color, especially poor ones, than it appears to be with white families. For example, poor parents of color are disproportionately incarcerated for not paying child support, which is pitched as a crime against the state. Low-income women of color who experience abuse are often charged with neglect for exposing their children to domestic violence or for living in conditions of poverty. Officials also increasingly arrest and prosecute abuse survivors who inflict defensive wounds, and they incarcerate victims who refuse to testify against their abusers.
Although state intervention is unwarranted and unwanted in some family matters, it is desperately needed to prevent and respond to abusive abductors.
Because histories of violence and kidnapping threats commonly precede parental abduction, family court judges could issue more restrictive visitation or custody orders to prevent kidnappings. Law enforcement, prosecutors and judges also need training on the many laws that facilitate abduction investigations, authorize protective court orders, and enforce and prosecute custodial interference or child abduction. And they need to be able to distinguish between the very different motives and situations of abusive abductors and survivor abductors. Exemptions or affirmative defenses for family violence victims also need to be available and used.
I woke up on Thursday to an email from a fellow West Coast lawyer who represents abuse survivors, seeking help recovering a child who was abducted by an abusive parent to the Midwest. The parent had fled their state with the child in violation of a domestic violence protection order, but, still, law enforcement officials refused to intervene because the child was with a parent.
These children, and the left-behind parents who desperately ask, “Have you found my baby yet?,” deserve the help of our justice system.

Twitter: @jane_stoever

Source:  “Most kidnapped children are taken by a parent.  That doesn’t mean they’re safe”, The Washington Post, 21 July 2017

Brexit could lead to rise in parental child abductions, warn legal experts

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Brexit could lead to rise in parental child abductions, warn legal experts

‘One year on from the referendum, it is clear it is having an impact on family life’

Brexit could lead to a rise in the number of parents abducting their children and taking them overseas, a law firm has claimed.

Lawyers said the firm had already seen a spike in inquiries from parents about disputes over travel plans and applications for dual citizenship, as well as fears their children would not be returned home from overseas visits.

Cara Nuttall, who specialises in matters relating to children, including abductions, said her firm JMW Solicitors, had received 30 per cent more inquiries in the three months to the end of June compared with the same period last year.

“One year on from the referendum, it is clear that Brexit is having an impact on family life where one or both parents is from the EU,” she said.

“We have seen a significant increase over recent weeks in the number of parents in rocky relationships or who are already separated or divorced seeking advice about their rights to relocate, or to stop the other parent from travelling because they are scared they may not come back with the children.

Ms Nuttall, a partner at the Manchester-based firm, added: ”We have also seen a rise in disputes about applications for foreign nationality and travel documents for children entitled to dual citizenship in fragile international families.

“Some foreign parents feel strongly they want to maximise their chances of being able to return home if things don’t work out, while British parents are concerned about them doing exactly that, and want to make it harder for them to take the children should they wish to do so.”

She also warned it expected to see even more of these cases over the summer months.

She said:  “It is clear that the uncertainty caused by Brexit has led to discussions in these families about the future, leaving some parents feeling extremely vulnerable when they realise they have diverging views.

“The inevitable temptation is to consider taking matters into their own hands and just go.”

Ms Nuttall said the framework in place to deal with parental abductions in Europe might not stay in place after Brexit.

She said: “We simply do not know what the replacement measures will be, nor how well they will work.”

Criminal law commissioner Professor David Ormerod QC said the laws to prevent child abductions were not “fit for purpose”.

“At least 300 British children a year are unlawfully retained overseas and the problem is growing,” he said.

“Whatever the implications of Brexit, we’d urge Parliament to consider our recommendations to double the maximum sentences for these offences to 14 years’ imprisonment and to close a legal loophole around the wrongful detention of children abroad.”

It comes as multiple reports suggested the UK would maintain free movement for EU citizens for up to four years after Brexit.

Theresa May is ready to offer free movement for two years, according to The Times, while The Guardian quoted a senior cabinet source as saying the period could last for three or even four years.

Philip Hammond was said to be confident he has won support within the Cabinet for a transition to prevent disruption to business caused by a sudden “cliff-edge” move to new arrangements on 29 March 2019, when Britain is set to leave the EU.

Additional reporting by Press Association

Source:  “Brexit could lead to rise in parental child abductions, warn legal experts”, The Independent, 25 July 2017

Korean parent found guilty of child abduction

“Jury finds Korean mother guilty of child abduction despite father’s domestic violence”

Woodland Record

From Yolo County, District Attorney • Monday, March 09, 2015

A Yolo County Jury found 43 year-old Nan Hui Jo of South Korea guilty of one count of Parental Child Abduction. Jury deliberations lasted a day and a half.

In November of 2009, Jo had been in a two year tumultuous and volatile relationship with the child’s father who was from West Sacramento. This included one incident of domestic violence which was never reported to the police. Jo testified in court that this was the only time that he physically put his hands on her. The father lived with Jo and their baby for six months.

After their final break-up, Jo took their 14 month-old child and returned to South Korea while the father was attempting to get her to attend Family Law court in Sacramento to establish joint custody and a visitation schedule. The Yolo County Child Abduction Unit was asked to assist and e-mailed Jo informing her of her need to appear in Court and sent her copies of the court paperwork. Child Abduction Unit staff offered Jo options for interpreter services and a direct line telephone number to the court clerk so that she could appear by telephone. On January 14, 2010 Jo responded in an email that she could not show up for court because her “status” for staying in the United States had expired and therefore “this month I have to leave this country.”

Child Abduction Unit staff learned a few weeks later at the time Jo had written that e-mail, she had already been in Korea for two months. Jo broke off communications with the Child Abduction Unit after Jan. 28, 2010. After being tracked to Korea, Jo refused a requested welfare check with the child, an American citizen, by the U.S. Consulate in Seoul. Jo deprived the father of any contact with his child, including telling the child she was “special” and didn’t have a father, for nearly five years until her arrest in July, 2014 when she attempted to re-enter the United States in Hawaii.

During the nearly five year abduction the Yolo County Child Abduction Unit worked to try and locate the mother and child after Jo broke off communications. At the time of the abduction back in 2009, South Korea was not a signatory to the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction, the civil remedy by which many internationally abducted children are returned.

The child and mother were placed on “watch” lists with Interpol and the State Department in an effort to track them should they ever leave South Korea. On July 19, 2014, U.S. Customs officials notified the Yolo County Child Abduction Unit that Jo and the child were on an inbound flight to Hawaii. Child Abduction Unit staff, with the help of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and authorities in Hawaii, set up Korean language counseling services for the child to help with the reunification process with the father. After a three day unification process with the child in Hawaii, the father returned with his daughter and brought her to the Family Court in Sacramento that had issued a Protective Custody Warrant for the child. The father and the child attend court ordered therapy sessions with a Korean speaking counselor on a weekly basis.

Jo remains in custody in the Yolo County jail on an Immigration hold pending sentencing. Her sentencing is set for April 1, 2014 at 1:30 p.m. in Dept. 4 before the Honorable David Rosenberg.

Source:  “Jury finds Korean mother guilty of child abduction despite father’s domestic violence”, Woodland Record (Yolo County, California), 9 March 2015

Ministerial remarks on child abduction proposals

Last year I wrote here that the Law Commission had published proposals to reform the criminal law in relation to international parental child abduction.  The main change in this area would see the wrongful retention of a child abroad become a criminal offence under the Child Abduction Act 1984.  At present, only the wrongful removal of a child can be a criminal offence.  As the law stands, a person who takes a child abroad with the other parent’s (or a court’s) consent but then stays abroad does not commit a criminal offence as the removal was lawful and criminal liability does not attach to a wrongful retention of a child abroad when that child was free to make the trip abroad in the first place.  There might, of course, still be the possibility of separate civil proceedings under the Hague Convention.

The Government has now made a tentative response to the Law Commission’s proposals as can be seen from this exchange in the House of Commons on 16 December 2014.  The exchange was initiated by the Chairman of the All-party Parliamentary Group on Child Abduction.  The links below have been added.

Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): The international child abduction charity, Reunite, reports that the wrongful overseas retention of children is up by 30% so far this year. We need urgent action to implement the welcome recent recommendation from the Law Commission that wrongful retention should be made a criminal offence. Will the Minister say when the Government will respond to that recommendation, and can he give a date by which we can expect to see the legislation that is needed?

Simon Hughes [Minister of State, Ministry of Justice]: Kidnap and child abduction can have devastating effects on victims and their families. It is vital that the law reflects the gravity of the offences, and that those who commit them are punished accordingly. I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues who formed a group in this House to argue for a change in the law. In the past, people could be punished for taking their children out of the country, but not for keeping them illegally out of the country rather than bringing them home. The coalition Government asked the Law Commission to consider the issue. It has reported back and recommended a change to the Child Abduction Act 1984. We are looking at that recommendation actively and I hope that we will be able to make progress in this Parliament.