Nov. 22, 1019 — U.S. and Mexican officials explained how their countries work together to resolve parental child abduction cases under terms of an international treaty, during a recent seminar at the University of Houston Law Center.
The Hague Abduction Convention, which went into effect in the United States in 1988, is designed to facilitate the return of a child to the country where he or she resided before being abducted by a parent and taken to another country. Issues of custody and criminal or civil penalties are decided by a court in the child’s home country.
“Our countries work together with a commitment to protect the best interests of the child,” said Alicia Kerber Palma, Mexican consul in Houston, who participated in the discussion hosted by the Center for U.S. and Mexican law at the Law Center.
While high-profile cases make headlines, the actual number of children abducted from the United States by a parent has fallen dramatically from 1,512 in 2008 to 698 in 2018, according to the U.S. state department.
“This drop in reported abductions can be attributed, in part, to our enhanced focus on preventing child abductions, and our close work with U.S. government interagency partners and foreign partners like the government of Mexico,” said Scott Renner, director of the state department’s Office of Children’s Issues.
The countries with the greatest number of abductions from the United States are Mexico, with approximately 200 reported abductions in 2018 and Canada with approximately 50. For abductions to the United States from a foreign country, Honduras and Mexico rank number one and two with approximately 130 case each in 2018. Texas, with an annual average of about 100 reported cases, ranks second only to California.
Nearly 90 percent of cases since 2015 were closed within a two-year period with the child being returned home in about one-third of the cases and the remainder resolved by the courts, an agreement between the parents or for other reasons, according to government statistics.
Renner and Miguel Angel Reyes Moncayo of the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Affairs detailed the lengths their countries go to track down abducted children and assist in bringing them back to their home countries.
They enlist the help of embassies, local law enforcement and Interpol, search social media, and follow up any information that may provide leads, such as likely work sites, favorite bars or restaurants. Sometimes the abductor may change the child’s appearance, even dressing him or
her in clothes of the opposite sex. They noted wealthy people are often easier to find than poorer people because they tend to live in areas with more police, have a higher profile lifestyle, and a greater presence on social media. The majority of those filing reports of abduction to Mexico and Latin America are women, they said, and many are teen mothers from poor backgrounds.
“As you may know,” Reyes told the gathering, “justice is never quick,” adding that it can take months or years to track down the abductor and child and then face potential court action and appeals. “This is why authorities try to reach agreements to return the child.” He said that in Mexico, depending on the maturity level of the child, his or her opinion on which parent to live with is always taken into consideration.
Renner said the Hague Convention is “child centric” and not about the parent. The U.S. government’s role, he said, is to assist in finding the child and returning him or her home, not to determine what is in the best interest of the child or any legal issues involving the parents.
Alfonso Lopez de la Osa Escribano, director of the Center for U.S. and Mexican Law, concluded by stressing why it is important that the seminar was held in Houston and at the Law Center: Houston is an international city, close to Mexico and Central America, with a large foreign-born population, and few attorneys are familiar with provisions of the Hague Abduction Convention.