India to work with US to solve child abduction issues

India has declared its intention to work with the U.S. to find a solution to child abduction cases, a State Department official told lawmakers May 17. “India is beginning to work with us to find practical solutions for children who are being abducted between our two countries,” Suzanne I. Lawrence, Special Advisor, Children’s Issues Bureau of Consular Affairs at the Department of State, told members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Sub-committee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations, as reported by PTI.

In 2017, the State Department reported 104 cases of abduction of U.S. children in India. This includes 20 new cases and 84 from the previous years. Lawrence added that she also pressed upon the Indian government to join the Hague Convention. India is not a signatory to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. No bilateral agreements exist between the two countries. Without the Hague Abduction Convention or any other protocols intended to resolve abduction cases, parents generally must pursue custody of abducted children in Indian courts, where they are mostly unsuccessful.

India is not a signatory to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (Hague Abduction Convention), nor are there any bilateral agreements in force between India and the United States concerning international parental child abduction, according to the US State Department.

“In February of this year, I travelled to India to encourage government officials there to resolve the numerous abduction cases they have, and for India to join the Convention,” Lawrence said. She said the United States in its bilateral meetings with the governments of India, Brazil and Indonesia have been raising the issue of IPCA. While in the US, it is called abduction, most of such cases are a result of marital dispute wherein one of the parents stays with the child in India and quite often gets a court order in their favor, Lawrence said.

The State Department in its travel advisor for India cautions the US citizens for acting forcefully to get back their kids while in India. “Parental child abduction is not a crime in India. Parents may wish to consult with an attorney in the United States and in the country to which the child has been removed or retained to learn more about how filing criminal charges may impact a custody case in the foreign court,” the State Department says in its travel advisor on India.

According to an annual State Department report, the US, in 2016, had as many as 83 alleged cases of abduction of American children. In 2015, the number was 74. The competent authorities in India persistently failed to work with the Department of State to resolve abduction cases. As a result of this failure, 66 per cent of requests for the return of abducted children have remained unresolved for more than 12 months. India has been cited as non-compliant since 2014,” it said.

Without the Hague Abduction Convention or any other protocols intended to resolve abduction cases, parents generally must pursue custody of abducted children in Indian courts, the report said. “The United States nor India have engaged seriously to remedy the human tragedy, the proof of which lies in the ever increasing volume of unresolved abductions cases to India, over 50 percent of them pending for five years or more,” noted the organization Bring Our Kids Home, which advocates for Indian American children who have been kidnapped by their parents.

India is widely referred to as a “safe haven” for abducting parents who take advantage of a favorable Indian judicial system, and face no consequences for their wrongdoing, noted BOKH. “Parental child abduction is not recognized as a crime in India, judges decide abduction cases on arbitrary basis, wrongfully asserting jurisdiction on foreign nationals and non-resident Indians,” stated the organization.

Lawrence’s remarks came on the same day that the State Department released a new report on child abduction, in which it accused India of not doing enough to protect abducted Indian American children. The report noted that 90 percent of child abduction cases from the U.S. to India have languished in Indian courts for over a year.

“India does not adhere to any protocols with respect to international parental child abduction. In 2017, India demonstrated a pattern of non-compliance. Specifically, the competent authorities in India persistently failed to work with the Department of State to resolve abduction cases,” the report said.

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