Hi, I’m Peter Senese, the Founding Director of the I CARE Foundation and as the summer school vacation period approaches, I would like to share with you the assortment of warning signs and risk factors associated international parental child abduction that targets thousands upon thousands of unsuspecting parents and defenseless children each year primarily who are a product of a multi-national relationship or marriage that is or has ended. In sharing some key warning signs today, it is my hope that children will be protected from kidnapping and overwhelming abuse.
Now if you’re like hundreds of thousands of parents around the world the term international parental child abduction may be one you are not familiar with. . . . . . until a child you know is kidnapped and illegally detained in a foreign country by the child’s other parent.
Before I go any further, let me say this: the vast majority of children abducted abroad never come home. Tragically, some can’t – they are gone forever.
According to United States Federal Law, the illegal removal of a child from the country without consent of a court or the child’s other parent is a criminal act of kidnapping. The conspiracy that leads up to the child snatching is generally filled with a host of illegal activities, including false allegations toward the targeted parent of abuse toward the child or other parent. This is something I will touch upon later. However, one thing more than anything else should be clear: parental child abduction is not just an act of kidnapping against an innocent child, but inherently, an abducted child becomes a prisoner of the kidnapper forced to follow and obey the predators instruction under the deplorable acts of parental alienation that the kidnapper deploys as they need to rationalize their behavior toward the child-victim.
Generally, the vast majority of abductions are well-planned and are orchestrated so that the other parent is off-guard when the abduction occurs. Blindsided by the act of international parental child abduction – that tragically is treated very differently than a stranger abduction by law enforcement despite the act being a federal crime of kidnapping - parents who attempt to reunite with their child often enter a dark and dangerous world that will change their world forever.
But what are we fighting for?
We’re fighting for a child’s life.
Filicide – a term you may not know - is the act of child murder by a parent. In the United States, hundreds of children are murdered by their parents each year. This is not a phenomenon – parental child murder is a reality that knows no borders.
In cases of parental child abduction the kidnapper uses the child as a pawn to cause hurt and suffering toward the other parent. Denying that parent access to the child is a common theme and often the reason why abduction occurs.
The fear is – the reality is – that many abductors exhibiting sociopath behavior often believe that if they can’t have sole custody of a child – nobody will. Additionally, there appears to be a strong correlation of adult suicides connected to child abduction victims.
None of its easy to discuss yet we’re all only three degrees of separation from knowing someone who may be a target of abduction.
In the course of events leading up to the actual abduction or attempted abduction there are clear warning signs that may allow a parent to protect themselves and their children. And with the summer months upon us – the time of year when most child kidnappings take place – I hope that some insight I will share may be of use to you.
On behalf of my colleagues at the I CARE Foundation, one thing is certain: raising awareness and stewarding the message about the warning signs of international parental child abduction has played a role in reducing the number of reported outbound child kidnapping cases originating in the United States by 15% during the last two consecutive years after nearly 30 years of continued growth.
Make no mistake; the reality is that tens of thousands of children living in cities and on farms across our nation are targeted for kidnapping each year. It is carefully estimated that only 10% of these children will ever come home when we consider the ‘reported’ and ‘unreported’ cases of abduction.
Do you really want to play those odds?
Now before I get into a list of warning signs of international abduction you may ask yourself why is international parental child abduction affecting tens of thousands of families?
The answer is complex, but in general terms, we are seeing a substantial increase in multi-national relationships, which personally I think is great; however, with the notion of ‘global citizenship’ comes some challenges.
You see, as our world becomes a closer, more connected society, individuals from different nations develop relationships with one another, some leading to the birth of a child. Unfortunately, some of these relationships end, and when they do, the foreign-born national parent often desires to return to their home country – and when they do – they usually have a desire to take the child with them.
Except they have one problem: the other parent does not want their child to live abroad after being born and raised in their home country.
Knowing that the likelihood of a court granting them permission to live abroad with their child more than likely will not occur, the parent seeking to relocate to a foreign country often creates a clever, well thought-out plan to either abduct the child from the child’s country of original jurisdiction, or, they will create a deceitful scheme that will enable them to legally remove the child from the country they live in – such as plans to travel on a family vacation with intentions of permanent removal.
Once they are abroad, the scheming parent will often lay a host of criminal charges against the other parent, including domestic physical and mental abuse, threats of murder, and outlandish acts of child abuse and neglect – all for one purpose: to sever the other parent’s relationship with the child and to gain legal actions to the foreign courts they are now physically located in by having the targeted parent arrested and prevented from seeing either them or the child.
Now what most individuals do not realize is that once that child steps foot on foreign soil, that child’s temporary welfare becomes the responsibility of the rules of law and courts of the country they are located in.
Which means this: the police and courts must follow the procedures established under their law: the targeted parent more than likely will be arrested, issued restraining orders against them, and have their access to their child denied until an investigation is done. In the meanwhile, the scheming taking parent files a host of legal motions in the country that will further restrain the targeted parent.
Welcome to a scheming kidnappers idea of a vacation.
Sometimes - and I have seen this happen many times – but a kidnapper will say that the other parent actually consented to have the child relocate . . . so that they can litigate ‘what’s in the child’s best interest’ abroad – in their country of origin – and at a tremendous disadvantage to the child’s other parent.
I want to make this very clear: the scheme of a parental child abductor does not discriminate by gender. Men and women generally abduct equally and often cite abuse and mistreatment as the reason why they abducted. They make the claim that they are not abductors but liberators fleeing abuse. The majority of these claims are false. They are lies created to defend against Federal kidnapping charges. They are lies created in hope a court would sanction the abduction under Article 13 of the Hague Convention – a rule that allows an abductor the ability to relocate if they can prove it is not in the child’s best interest to return to their home country. These lies are intended to cruelly cause the targeted parent suffering, including arrest in hope to make any litigation they may bring to reunite with their child difficult or impossible.
So if you think that since you may have a U.S. custody order, and that THAT order will allow you to simply go and bring your child home, you should know this: that once your child is in a foreign country, the pragmatic reality of the custody order you are in possession of may mean very little, especially if the abductor has made a criminal complaint against you and/or filed a civil action for custody. Usually, they happen at the same time.
And so here’s your reality: should you attempt to remove your child and take them home with you, you may be violating laws in the country you and your child are located in and you may be arrested . . . . Your custody order is at least temporarily, useless. Welcome to the world of parental child abduction.
But like Dante’ descending into the Inferno, your nightmare as a targeted chasing parent has only just begun. For example, as an American citizen, do you know that even though the abduction was a criminal act toward you and your child, you are responsible for 100% of all costs associated with finding, monitoring, and litigating your case, including the costs to bring your child home unless you become dead-broke – which often occurs for many targeted parents because the cost to reunite with a child often costs parents hundreds of thousands of dollars. So if you don’t have a large amount of money available, chances are you’re not going to bring your child home. But that’s not it: you still have to deal with the false charges and claims, and litigate abroad. If you don’t think foreign courts have prejudice, you are sadly mistaken.
And if you think you’ll simply be able to get an arrest warrant issued and seek extradition proceedings against the kidnapping parent, you’re in line for some serious disappointment because numerous countries that the United States has extradition agreements with do not have agreements in place regarding parental abduction. In fact, in certain countries, this is not even a crime!
Do you get the sense of hopelessness? If you do – welcome to the world of many chasing parents.
Add to it that while your child is gone, he or she is taught by the abductor to think you are a bad mother or father out to hurt them and their taking parent. Yes, parental alienation and parental isolation are alive and well – and in its abuse, it destroys the innocence and very fabric of your child.
So as the summer approaches, this is the time of year when parents need to be aware of the warning signs of parental child abduction.
I have often heard from parents who tragically stuck their head in the sand and didn’t pay attention to the warning signs that ‘Their partner was not that clever’, to find out just how cunning and deceitful they really were only after their child or children were gone.
The key to stopping child abduction is to prevent it from happening.
The MOST IMPORTANT WARNING sign of abduction is to understand the present relationship you have with the child's other parent and ask yourself 'May that parent have the intent, desire, ability, and means to take your child to another country without your permission, or possible intent to keep your child in a foreign country should you grant permission for your child to travel abroad with you, the other parent, or both of you?
Abduction often occurs as a prelude to parents separating or beginning divorce proceedings, though there are a significant number of abductions that occur post-divorce commencement litigation. In many cases, the abduction is a planned scheme, which means that generally, the parent intending to abduct a child will try to create an atmosphere that is opposite of their intent: meaning that they will try lull the other parent to thinking that they are committed to the relationship, when in fact they are not. This is a critical issue because it is easier to abduct a child when the targeted parent is not seeking to prevent abduction. So having the targeted parent think that there is a loving, committed relationship is critical for the abductor.
So - if you have been in a difficult, strained relationship with a person who has deep ties to a foreign country, and suddenly that person is demonstrating a new-found love or new-found commitment . . . and they eventually pose the idea of traveling abroad with the child so the child could visit that person's family, THIS IS A VERY SERIOUS WARNING SIGN that abduction may be planned.
Remember, even if you are invited to travel with the other parent and child, this does not mean you or your child are safe. I know many parents who traveled abroad with the other parent and child who were in possession of custody orders - only to have false claims of abuse, neglect, or acts of violence made against them within days of touching down in the foreign country. Once that happens, the legal nightmare begins - despite possessing joint custody, there is very little that the targeted parent can do to remove the child from the inbound country because the abducting parent usually has filed legal documents seeking court relief to remain abroad - typically in their country of origin.
So here we are - the school summer vacation season is upon us. Parents need to ask themselves this question: Has my relationship with my child's other parent been strained, and all of a sudden there is a new-found love or commitment by that parent - and is there a trip abroad being suggested or planned? Because if so - you should be very concerned.
As touched upon earlier, if you believe the other parent may remove or retain the child abroad in order to gain an advantage in expected or pending child-custody proceedings by seeking the jurisdiction of the courts located in their country of origin, you should be very concerned.
For example, if a child is taken to a nation in the Middle East, there is a high probability that that nation will allow the abductor to keep the child abroad since the legal environment or cultural traditions may provide the abductor the safe harbor they seek.
In fact, there are many nations who simply do not return internationally kidnapped children, and this includes the majority of countries found in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa, who outrageously, are not signatory members of international treaties on abduction. And before I let you think that having a child abducted to European or South American countries is any better you better think again. For example, I have a good friend who is a highly decorated police officer in New York who had his daughter abducted to Germany. For nearly 4 years this loving, honest, compassionate father has fought to reunite with his child. Yet she remains in Germany and he is as close as bringing her home today as he was when the kidnapping first occurred.
Unfortunately, there are countries, particularly in the Middle East, that have cultural environments that make it very difficult for a woman to recover their child. Cultural norms in Asia make it equally difficult for a man to recover their child. But child recovery and reunification is rare. In fact, there are many cases when the international courts order for a child to be returned to their country of original jurisdiction, and the kidnapping parent does not follow the court orders and does so without fear of retribution or arrest . . . . its a common theme.
Now back to the WARNING SIGNS - If the other parent threatens you that they will take your child abroad and you will never see them, don't take this threat as a non-event. Many abductors who have successfully kept a child abroad did in fact make at least one threat that they were returning to their own country of origin.
Another WARNING SIGN is if the other parent presses you to sign a passport application for your child to obtain a passport from their country of their origin. Remember - your child has a right to dual citizenship if their other parent is a foreign born national.
BEWARE that many nations do not require a second parent's signature in order to obtain travel documents for a dual national child. . . for example France - so you very well may not know if the other parent has a secondary passport issued from another country. THIS IS SO IMPORTANT because even though the U.S. courts may obtain or even cancel your child's American passports, they have no control on passports issued by another country. The fact is that even though a U.S. court order may restrict international travel for the child - passports issued by a foreign country are accepted without question at points of departure from the U.S. "
So if abduction is going to occur - there is a high probability that foreign issued passports will be used to leave the United States.
NEEDLESS TO SAY, if you discover a foreign passport for your child issued from another country that you were not aware of, you have a serious problem on your hand.
Often the scheming parent will use a sudden illness of a family member abroad as a scheme to play on the targeted parent's heart, often seeking to have their child, 'See their grandmother or grandfather before they pass away.' I can't even begin to tell you how many scenarios like that I am aware of - when the targeted parent who let their child travel with the other parent - soon finds out that there was no family emergency, but instead - an abduction scheme.
A CRITICAL WARNING SIGN is if you soon realize that the other parent is sending large sums of money or other personal belongings abroad - or if they are removing all financial ties to the country they presently live in . . . such as selling their home, quitting their job, selling their car. You get the idea.
There is one other VERY IMPORTANT WARNING SIGN that I would like to touch upon here: if there is a false police complaint and incident report filed by your child's other parent against you, there is a likelihood that they are establishing a case against you based upon domestic violence and abuse which will be very beneficial to them in court should they abduct your child.
Disgracefully, both men and women abductors are known to make false claims of abuse toward the other parent when planning to abduct . . . if you think it can’t happen to you – you better think again.
With false police complaints in mind, there is something every parent should be aware of: generally, a parent seeking to abduct a child will often make a false police report against the other parent on Thursday afternoons thru Friday afternoon in hope to have their targeted parent arrested and detained by law enforcement over the weekend so that while the child's other parent is in jail, they have an unimpeded path to depart the country.
When the abductor arrives in the inbound country where they had schemed to abduct the child to - they have established a paper trail of domestic abuse or violence reports that may provide the court in the foreign country with all the evidence they need to allow the abductor the right to keep the child there, thus becoming a 'liberator' as opposed to an 'abductor' because they created the false appearance that they had to run to protect their lives.
Remember, children under 16 years of age living in the United States, Canada, or Mexico are not required to present a valid passport when traveling within North America so long as they travel by land or sea under policies established by the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative . . . . which means that a closed circuit cruise ship that starts and ends in the same port, but that may travel to foreign ports, is in fact a vehicle for abductors to use.
Hopefully the I CARE Foundation's efforts will cause our government to modify this policy and mandate that children traveling abroad, regardless of age must present a valid passport.
The Truth is that there are a substantial amount of warning signs of abduction, and parents need to pay attention to them TODAY.
Should you believe that your child is at risk of abduction, please contact a qualified attorney who has true experience litigating international child abduction prevention cases.
If child abduction is in process, please contact law enforcement immediately as well as a qualified attorney familiar with abduction. You should also immediately contact the United States Department of State's OFFICE OF CHILDREN'S ISSUES.
As the summer approaches, the reality is that thousands of children will be targeted for abduction. It is anticipated that several thousand children will be kidnapped abroad when combining reported and unreported cases of abduction.
Of these children taken, only a small number will ever return home . . . ever see their targeted parent again . . . ever return to the community they were raised in . . . ever see their family now left behind.
In the process, their identity will be stolen . . . who they are will be denied . . . they will learn to know hatred because that is what an abductor will preach to them in order to have that child hate their left behind parent . . . and they will live a life as a fugitive.
Most of all they will become prisoners illegally detained by a vengeful abductor who is using that child to cause harm and destruction to the other parent.
Tragically, these children will lose their innocence. As I said earlier, many will never come home . . . some simply will never have the opportunity to . . . . they can't.
For more information I urge you to visit the I CARE Foundation's website. You may also visit the official website for Chasing The Cyclone, which is the website of my deeply inspired novel about international child abduction that contains an extensive amount of resources. And of course, you should visit the United States Department Of States Official Website, particularly if abduction is in progress.
Protect yourself and your child. Educate yourself.
Click here to read how to stop international parental child abduction when a child may be issued two dual passports.