WASHINGTON — International child abductions are "sharply on the rise," the US State Department's official in charge of children's issues said Wednesday as Americans marked Missing Children's Day. Family members abduct more than 200,000 children every year in the United States, and last year nearly 2,000 children were kidnapped by one of their parents and illegally brought into or taken out of the United States, Susan Jacobs, the State Department special adviser on children's issues said. In US fiscal year 2006, 642 children were abducted from the United States by one of their parents, a report released two years ago by the State Department found.
That rose to 794 children for the same 12 months in 2007 and to 1,082 in 2008, according to the report. In 2008, 484 children were abducted to the United States, and only 361 children who were illegally taken out of the United States by a parent were returned, the report said. The rise in international child abductions by parents was "a disturbing trend," Jacobs said. Children who are kidnapped and taken out of their country of usual residence are "at risk of serious emotional and psychological problems," while left-behind parents have to deal with numerous obstacles as they battle to get their children back or even just for the right to see them again, she said. "They confront unfamiliar legal, cultural and linguistic barriers, suffer emotional trauma and face significant and long-term financial costs," said Jacobs, who was appointed last year to head the State Department's Office of Children's Issues (OCI).
The OCI is the central authority in the United States for the 1980 Hague Convention, an international agreement that requires kidnapped children to be returned promptly to their country of habitual residence.
It is also one of the fastest-growing offices in the State Department, "which sadly reflects the growth of international child abduction," Jacobs said. Jacobs was speaking a day after dozens of left-behind parents testified on Capitol Hill about the pain of having a child kidnapped by a spouse, and about parents' frustration in dealing with the OCI. Carlos Bermudez, who has been battling for three years to bring his son back from Mexico where he was taken at the age of one by his mother, said the OCI was unhelpful, mired in red tape, and more concerned with maintaining good international relations than bringing back kidnapped children. The OCI advised him badly, refused to give him legal advice and "essentially set me up for the failure of the Hague application for my son's return" to avoid a "potentially damaging international incident."
"They view American children's loss of their American families and heritage as acceptable collateral damage... We cannot continue to offer up our abducted American children as sacrificial lambs at the altar of pleasant bilateral relations," he said. Jacobs told AFP she was "deeply sorry that parents feel that we are not assisting them because I can assure you, that is our goal -- it's to help them resolve these horrible problems."