International Child Abduction

International kidnapping, one of the most difficult types of parental abduction, is not new. Two of the survivors of the Titanic — the Navratil children, Michel, 4, and Edmond, 2 — were traveling on Titanic with their father when it sank on its maiden voyage. After separating from and losing custody of his two young boys to his wife Marcelle, the father, Michel Navratil, decided to take his boys and immigrate to America. While the children were staying with him over the Easter holiday, he traveled with them from France to England where he boarded Titanic under the alias Louis M. Hoffman, a widower.

After the disaster, the Carpathia rescued the boys, who spoke no English and had no parent or guardian. First-class passenger Margaret Hays took both boys to her home in New York and kept them together until family members could be contacted and arrangements made. Back in France their mother, Marcelle, did not know the whereabouts of her boys until she saw their picture in the newspaper. After identifying herself as the boys’ mother, the White Star Line gave Marcelle passage to New York on Olympic where she reunited with her boys. They returned to France.

Chance returned the Navratil boys to their mother, but when a parent   flees with the children across borders, the law is far less equipped to provide a remedy.

The ease of international travel and concomitant increase in international marriages are seen as leading to a rapid rise in the number of international child abductions.

The term international child abduction is generally means international parental kidnapping, child snatching, and child stealing. However, the more precise legal usage of international child abduction refers to the illegal removal of children from their home by an acquaintance or family member to a foreign country. In this context, illegal is normally means “in breach of custodial rights” and “home” is defined as the child’s habitual residence. As implied by the “breach of custodial rights,” the phenomenon of international child abduction generally involves an illegal removal that creates a jurisdictional conflict of laws. Multiple authorities and jurisdictions could conceivably arrive at seemingly reasonable and conflicting custodial decisions with geographically limited application. This result often strongly affects a child’s access and connection to half his or her family; it may cause the loss of his or her former language, culture, name and nationality. The abduction violates numerous children’s rights, and can cause severe psychological and emotional trauma to the child and family left behind.

Even though the abductor is a parent, the child may be in danger. The harmful consequences for children and families have been shown in several studies and child abduction has been characterized as a form of parental alienation and child abuse. The international dimensions to the removal significantly increase the detrimental effects on children and families.

In some cases, the parent flees to a country that is a party to the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction, a compact of 94 nations to expedite the return of abducted children. If so, a combination of legal and political pressure can lead to a child’s return. In this case, it may be beneficial to contact public officials who may be able to use their political clout to help effect the return of a child. Outside of those countries, however, the remedies vary greatly. An experience attorney who specializes in international custody disputes can be enlisted.

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