While the more immediate effects of war may be easier to see, notably the destruction of the land, the loss of human life, and diasporic movements of persons from their home countries, the struggles of survivors to overcome a cataclysmic event and rebuild their way of life are dramatic in themselves. One phenomenon, an indirect effect of such adversity, is large increases in the rates of child abduction worldwide.
The causes of child abduction in foreign countries are many, but certain factors jump out to the forefront. Firstly, in those countries where territorial disputes are more common and security measures are less affordable, lawlessness is one such cause. Then again, money may be the major issue; in other words, poverty.
Though Mexico is a popular destination for casual vacations from the United States and American college students’ Spring Break getaways as it is directly south of the country, travelers to Mexico are strongly cautioned to take care in Mexico in light of outbreaks of crime. While theft and assault are common avenues for criminals to go down, the theft and assault of foreign and domestically-born children is a serious problem in the country in its own right.
Estimates made by Mexican authorities place the number of missing children from kidnappings in Mexico only in the hundreds, but realistically, a number of missing persons reports either go unanswered by the police or never even get filed by virtue of people’s mistrust in law enforcement/the judiciary or fear of retribution for implicating a kidnapper for the crime.
Reasons do vary with regard to kidnappers’ motives for abducting children. While some children are abducted for the purpose of ransoms (after all, much of Mexico’s population lives in poverty), still others are consigned into service by those who perpetuate the illicit drug trade in the Americas. These minors are compelled by threats to them and their families or potential rewards to smuggle drugs and money between Mexico and the United States, and as they are minors, they are usually allowed to leave customs after a short detention period with a slap on the wrist.
Meanwhile, kidnappers’ methods may also be different from situation to situation. Though actual abductions do occur, “virtual” abductions, in which callers pose as frantically crying children, may be able to extract information useful to the cause of theft from these hoaxes.
For the sake of analogy, the Vietnam War was a brutal conflict for soldiers and civilians alike, and in the United States, the controversial compulsory draft sent scores of young men to the front lines. As ethically or morally questionable at this practice was, though, in terms of legality, it was wholly sound; those required to register for the draft lottery were of a minimum age to serve (i.e. adulthood), and such a draft is provided for in the U.S. Constitution.
In some African countries, on the other hand, where war and political unrest is incessant, many young people are marched off to battle, but under more abusive circumstances and at much younger ages. It is already bad enough that civilian children are incidental casualties, but over 250,000 boys and girls worldwide are turned into soldiers under fear of penalty of death if they do not meet their captors’ demands.
In Uganda in particular, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), helmed by fanatical leader Joseph Kony, has conscripted hundreds, if not thousands, of men, women and children into military service amid its efforts to overthrow the resident Ugandan government in a coup.
The LRA, using intimidation, violence and murder to maintain its grip on these children (some of whom are not even teenagers yet), makes them tote firearms bigger than their person and even goads them into serving as human shields in times of combat. Arguably worse yet, female children – when they are not engaging in battle themselves – may be subjected to sexual abuse and prostitution.
International Parental Abduction in Japan
As a symbol of the inherent contradictions of conflict of laws, Japan makes for a good case study in how it approaches international family law. Already, it is apparent to those who study extradition law that Japan is apt to metaphorically march to the beat of a different drum, as the country will frequently refuse to extradite its nationals who have been charged with a serious crime, even though many countries would as part of the unspoken goal of world peace.
In a similar way, Japan diverges from a number of nations in the ways its courts approach child abduction conventions. In terms of binding treaty convention, Japan is one of only two G8 Summit countries to not ratify the 1980 Hague Convention treaty, alongside of Russia.
Besides its failure to become a signatory member of this Hague Convention despite the pleas of critics, Japan also has very specific stances on the rights of foreigners to bring family matters before its courts and to assert claims of custody. Traditionally, Japanese police forces and legal professionals have been hesitant to get into protracted discussions of with whom and where a child should legally reside.
If no excessive force is used to remove/retain a child during international travel, and furthermore, the child does not agree to come with a bailiff even though a left-behind parent wins his or her case, Japanese authorities may do little, if anything at all, to restore a child back to his or her previous residence.
These same authorities may fail to recognize the results of a civil court case abroad, instead awarding custody to the Japanese national, and may refuse to acknowledge the unsolicited custody of a child with the abducting parent as a crime.
Though the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction may only protect the rights of nationality of a left-behind parent when the other parent unlawfully takes their child to another nation that is a party to the Hague Convention, even when countries have signed onto the treaty, the inconsistency with which countries apply its parameters are a source of great frustration to the U.S. Department of State and other diplomatic entities across the globe.
Regardless of whether or not difficulties in remedying illegal abductions to Brazil are byproducts of their conscious actions, these inefficiencies persist, as does bias of Brazilian courts towards its own nationals, even in cases where Hague Convention protocols should supersede interpretations of custody.
Somewhat recently, these same issues manifested themselves in the very public custody/residency battle of Sean Goldman. In what seemed to some to be a case of wrongful retention on the part of Sean’s mother after a trip to Brazil, and thus, an obvious cause for return of the boy to David, his father in the United States under the Hague Convention, Brazilian authorities ruled for Bruna Bianchi, his mother and abductor, publicly citing the ideas he was firmly established in Brazil.
After his mother’s death, Brazil authorities claimed that it was important to his growth that he remain in Brazil with his stepfather. Ultimately, the presidents of both nations, the U.S. Secretary of State and the Brazilian foreign minister all got involved before this case was settled in favor of David Goldman and Sean returned to the United States to live his father.
Rise in UK Child Abduction
In truth, while child abduction might seem like something that only happens in countries with low economic and security standards, international child abduction is on the rise in numerous countries, and is oftentimes hard to prevent because parents whose children are taken abroad may have given them permission in the first place to travel as part of a short-term trip. The United Kingdom is one of those major players in international political affairs that has been victimized by an epidemic of child abductions.
Yearly totals of unauthorized bouts of foreign residency for children have reached the hundreds, and while the nature of international parental abduction makes it difficult to analyze trends (as well as the sample size, which is still relatively small compared to other child migrations), certain countries have emerged as leaders in destinations for child abductors from the U.K. They are as follows: Pakistan, the United States, Ireland, and Spain.
Transfers of children between Ireland and Spain can at least be partially understood by how close these nations are to the United Kingdom on the map. The United States of America and Pakistan, meanwhile, have a tie to the United Kingdom on historical and linguistic levels, as both the United States and Pakistan (part of India before its independence and partition) were colonies of the British Empire.
More importantly, though, larger, more universal trends in family and marriage are at the heart of abductions from the United Kingdom. With more international interactions through easier, cheaper international travel, more marriages and, in turn, divorces necessitate custody hearings. These child abductions at the hands of parents, therefore, are means of trying to circumvent family law and sympathetic non-Hague states may help abductors achieve that very goal.
To be sure, child abuse is a quantifiable risk of abduction within a foreign territory or across international borders. With respect to international parental abduction, the abducting parent may be the abuser, though it is possible (even if it is hard to prove in all cases) that the left-behind parent/caretaker is abusive in his or her own right.
Some abduction situations, meanwhile, are by their very definition, abusive to children. The all-too-common practices of using underage children for sexual purposes or sweatshop slave labor.
Austria, too, has had its share of abuse(s). The kidnapping/captivity cases of Natascha Kampusch, who was kept in a secret cellar for eight years, and Elisabeth Fritzl, who was held hostage, abused and raped by her father (with whom she conceived eight times), came to international attention, which is more than understandable considering the graphic nature of these crimes.
While instances of child abduction to Austria are not of the same magnitude, the country has still received its share of scrutiny for abusing its Hague Convention privileges. As with Brazil, it has frequently proven to be non-compliant with the 1980 treaty, applying its own legal standards when they are not merited and failing to make effective court orders based on Hague protocol.