Family Child Abductions
It happens: A parent kidnapping his or her own child and fleeing for parts unknown, often overseas.
It’s our job to help find these abducted kids. Our field offices across the country serve as the primary points of contact for those seeking our help. To request our assistance or learn more about our services, please contact a member of the Child Exploitation Task Force at your local FBI office.
How is a missing child defined? By law (specifically the 1982 Missing Children’s Act), it’s any person younger than 18 whose whereabouts are unknown to his or her legal custodian. Under the act, the circumstances surrounding the disappearance must indicate that the child was removed from the control of his or her legal custodian without the custodian’s consent, or the circumstances of the case must strongly indicate that the child is likely to have been abused or sexually exploited.
Options under the law. Two federal criminal investigative options and one non-criminal or civil method may be pursued when a child is abducted by a parent and taken over state lines or outside the U.S.
- The International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act (IPKCA) of 1993: A criminal arrest warrant can be issued for a parent who takes a juvenile under 16 outside of the U.S. without the other custodial parent’s permission.
- Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution (UFAP)—Parental Kidnapping: When criminal charges are filed by a state that requests our help, a criminal arrest warrant can be issued for an abducting parent who flees across state lines or internationally. See below for more details.
- The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction: In nations that have signed the Hague Convention, there is a civil process that facilitates the return of abducted children under 16 to their home countries. See below for more details.
The criminal processes enable the arrest of the abducting parent but do not specifically order the return of the child, although the child is usually returned when the parent is apprehended. The civil process, on the other hand, facilitates the return of the child but in no way seeks the arrest or return of the abductor. As a result, a criminal process would not be pursued if circumstances indicate it will jeopardize an active Hague Convention civil process.
Based on these considerations, we pursue criminal action in international parental kidnappings on a case-by-case basis. We take into account all the factors and guidance among the impacted state and federal law enforcement agencies, state and/or federal prosecutors, the Department of State, the Department of Justice, and the left-behind parent.
It’s important to understand: The FBI has no investigative jurisdiction outside the U.S., except on the high seas and other locations specifically granted by Congress. We work through our existing partnerships with international authorities through the U.S. Department of State, our legal attaché program, and Interpol.
The U.S. Department of State receives approximately 1,200 new Hague and non-Hague cases annually. If you are a left-behind parent, please see the Department of Justice’s International Parental Kidnapping webpage for more information.
More Details on the Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution—Parental Kidnapping Process
Our authority in parental kidnapping cases stems from the Fugitive Felon Act as part of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1073–UFAP. Although this statute most commonly applies to fugitives who flee interstate and/or internationally, Congress has specifically declared that the statute is also applicable in cases involving interstate or international parental kidnapping. Because many fugitives flee with their own children, the statute serves as an effective means for the FBI to help local and state law enforcement arrest these fugitives. In order for the FBI to assist with a UFAP arrest warrant, the following criteria must be met:
- There must be probable cause to believe the abducting parent has fled interstate or internationally to avoid prosecution or confinement.
- State authorities must have an outstanding warrant for the abductor’s arrest charging him/her with a felony under the laws of the state from which the fugitive flees.
- State authorities must agree to extradite and prosecute that fugitive from anywhere in the U.S. if the subject is apprehended by the FBI.
- The local prosecuting attorney or police agency should make a written request for FBI assistance.
- The U.S. Attorney must authorize the filing of a complaint, and the federal arrest process must be outstanding before the investigation is instituted.
More Details on the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction
To assist with the recovery of children abducted internationally, the U.S. implemented federal legislation under the International Child Abduction Remedies Act by signing the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction in 1988. The Hague Convention is an agreement among its signatories that states:
...a child under 16 years of age who is habitually resident in a country party to the Hague Convention, and who is removed to or retained in another country party to the Convention in breach of the left-behind parent’s custody rights, shall be promptly returned to the country of habitual residence.
are obligated, with certain limited exceptions and conditions, to return an internationally abducted child under 16 to the country from which they habitually reside if an application to the Hague Convention is made within one year from the date of the wrongful abduction. The Hague Convention only applies to abductions between countries who have signed the treaty.
Each signatory country has designated a Central Authority to carry out specialized duties under the Convention. The U.S. Department of State, Office of Children’s Issues, has been designated as the Central Authority under the Hague Convention for the United States. Questions concerning the Hague Convention should be addressed to:
U.S. Department of State
Bureau of Consular Affairs
Office of Children’s Issues
SA-17, 9th Floor
Washington, D.C. 20522-1709
Phone: (888) 407-4747; (202) 501-4444
Fax: (202) 736-9132
Web Address: travel.state.gov/childabduction