Monday, October 17, 2011
Child Advocates Peter Thomas Senese, Carolyn Vlk, Joel Walter, and Patricia Lee: Hope On Horizon For Parents Targeted For International Parental Child Abduction As U.S. Government Considers Secondary Prevent Departure Program
A groundbreaking United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) report has recommended for the creation of a new international parental child abduction prevention program aimed at establishing a non-departure fly list for United States citizens who have been determined by either our courts or law enforcement as potential high-risk international parental child abductors.In the report that Gerald Dillingham, the Director of Physical Infrastructure Issues for the U.S. GAO issued, the GAO recommendation states, “To further help prevent international parental child abduction involving airline flights, particularly for persons identified as high risk for attempting such abductions, we recommend that the Secretary of Homeland Security consider creating a program similar to the child abduction component of the Prevent Departure program that would apply to U.S. citizens.”
If the Government Accountability Office recommendation is acted upon, and a new security screening process is created to protect children at risk who cannot be protected under present government programs, then children who are either the product of multicultural relationships targeted for illegal international removal or children of parents simply desiring to leave the United States with their child despite court orders will be significantly more protected.
Presently, the United States government has several programs in place to prevent international parental child abduction. This includes the following:
1. The State Department requires both parents or guardians consent prior to the issuance of a child’s U.S. passport.
2. Parents can sign up for the State Department’s Children’s Passport Issuance Alert Program.
3. Parents can contact the State Department’s Office of Children’s Issues to place a suspected non-U.S. citizen abductor on the DHS’s Prevent Departure.
According to Joel S. Walter, a New York City based attorney who focuses on federal court and family law matters including international child custody, “There currently exists no database that captures information pertaining to child custody and a court’s orders concerning a child’s travel restrictions. And even with court orders in place, it is difficult for law enforcement to uphold travel orders, in part due to the lack of an up-to-date nationwide database. When we add that the United States generally does not exercise departure controls at our borders for citizens possessing a valid passport from leaving our country, we begin to realize the ease at which certain individuals may be able to illegally remove a child. Clearly, the Prevent Departure Program offers abduction prevention assistance for targeted parents and children who are non-nationals. However, without a security screening process for parents possessing American citizenship that are considered high-risk abduction threats, prevention of these types of cases will remain extremely difficult. There is no question in my mind that children who face potential international abduction need the United States government to establish additional policy or program that will protect them such as the secondary screening program recommended by the Government Accountability Office and the Department of Homeland Security. The work conducted by the GAO Infrastructure team in thoroughly researching this issue and bringing to light the real need for their suggestions hits right on one of the key issues that attorneys like myself who practice international family law as well as targeted parents of abduction realize: that our nation’s children must be protected from the cruel threat of parental kidnapping. I urge others to sign the White House petition site and send a message to our policymakers that we need to new abduction prevention programs.”
Supporting Mr. Walter’s statement, the GAO report states, “The lack of exit controls makes timing crucial in preventing international parental child abductions involving an airline flight. If a child has a valid passport, preventing an abduction on an international airline flight could be very difficult even if a parent has obtained a custody order barring such travel because that parent would not only need to involve law enforcement but do so with enough time to intercept the abducting parent and child before they board an international flight.” The report further adds that often, “A parent does not know that another family member plans to board the child on an international flight, and thus may not contact law enforcement on time.” Various studies show that many abductions occur when the targeted parent is unaware of the other parent’s abduction scheme.
Jill Jones-Soderman, Ph.D, and the Director of nonprofit The Foundation For The Child Victims Of The Family Court as well as the Founder of the Family Resolution Center based in New York observed, “Child abduction of any kind is a severe form of child abuse toward a child. The sociopathic tendencies of a parental abductor can be relentless to the point that individuals intending to criminally abduct a child overseas will often attempt to do so until they are successful. Parental abductors generally do not care about the true welfare of the child they abuse, but rather, they use a child in order to cause hurt in the other parent’s life. The short-term and long-term damage that is often done occurs well before the actual act of abduction, as parental alienation is commonplace. As an active voice against child abduction, the Foundation for Child Victims of the Family Court applauds the efforts of the Government Accountability Office and its report titled ‘Program Aimed At High-Risk Parent Abductors Could Aid In Preventing Abductions’. We are in full support of the creation of a secondary security screening program as has been recommended.”
The GAO report further emphasizes the need for a secondary prevent departure list when it states in its report, “Department of Homeland Security officials told us that their Prevent Departure list – which requires a custody or court order specifically banning the child in question from traveling internationally with a specified parent or someone acting on behalf of the parent – is quite effective at preventing abductions involving non-U.S. citizen abductors. Officials at the State Department added that a similar list for U.S. citizens would be very effective in cases where there was already a custody or court order preventing the child from traveling abroad with the specified parent.”
Carolyn Ann Vlk, who drafted Florida’s Child Abduction Prevention Act that is now law, co-author of ‘The World Turned Upside Down’, co-producer of the documentary film ‘Chasing Parents’, and the writer of numerous articles and research reports on international parental child abduction stated, “The reality is that our nation’s children are not safe from international parental child abduction, and the legal remedies available to targeted parents of abduction in the international community are not typically efficient. The single most important way to stop a child from being abducted is to prevent it from happening in the first place. That was and is the intent of Florida’s Child Abduction Prevention Act. However, as this highly regarded GAO report specifically points out when addressing risk factors targeted parents who are desperately trying to protect their children face, ‘Department of Homeland Security officials told us that many judges who deal with custody issues simply are not aware of the risk for international parental child abductions and thus may fail to issue a court order banning such travel. Officials at the State Department added that some judges are not adequately trained to issue court or custody orders that ban international travel in cases where abduction is a real concern.’ And so, with local courts of jurisdiction not possessing the knowledge of the great harm of parental child abduction onto a child, and, the unimaginable hardship a parent faces who is trying to find and reunite with their stolen child, the current trend of sharply rising abductions will continue. If and when the noteworthy GAO recommendation is created, there will be many thousands of children who will be better protected from international abduction.”
Peter Thomas Senese stated, “Reducing the capability of an abducting parent to depart the United States illegally with a child is one of the most pressing preventive matters our government must address. There are two significant steps that will dramatically reduce the number of children from abduction. One is the GAO recommendation for a security screening program geared for U.S. citizens considered to be high-risk abductors. The second method is to alter international travel documentation requirements for minors under 16 traveling by land or sea to Canada, Mexico, or to certain Caribbean-island nations under the existing Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. Presently, under the WHTI, a child may present only a photocopy of their citizenship papers such as a photocopy of a birth certificate in order to travel abroad. As discussed in 'The World Turned Upside Down' I co-authored with Carolyn Vlk, existing WHTI departure policy for children traveling abroad by land or sea offer parental child abductors a significant method to abduct, and this too must stop. If the Prevent Departure program is replicated to prevent individuals possessing a right of U.S. citizenship, we will create a formidable barrier for would-be abductors intending to abduct defenseless children. Unquestionably, it is the goal of parents, advocates, the judiciary, law enforcement, lawmakers, and government agency stakeholders to prevent the abduction of children domestically or abroad. All programs designed to stop abducting parents who have circumvented existing abduction prevention policies will dramatically reduce the number of children criminally abducted abroad. I urge others to sign the petition in support of creating new abduction prevention programs and policies located on the White House website.”
Pamela Michell, Founder of 'Survivor On A Mission', which focuses on raising awareness and preventing abduction and human trafficking spoke of the horror of abduction. "As both a survivor of abduction and human slavery, and as a global advocate assisting many others who have been abducted, abused, and violated, I urge others to rise up in the name of children. No person thinks this can or will happen to them or their family. Yet hundreds of thousands of children are targeted for abduction each year. We ask you to support child abduction prevention laws and programs everywhere. Please."
"We urge everyone to sign the petition site placed on the Official White House website, and show your support for the GAO recommendation and other child abduction prevention programs," urged Amanda Bayoumi, a mother at risk who is trying to ensure her children are not abducted to Saudi Arabia.
To show your support for the creation of a security screening list for individuals considered to be high-risk abductors or to voice your concern over poor travel document requirements needed for children traveling abroad under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, PLEASE CLICK HERE.
For more information on international parental child abduction, PLEASE CLICK HERE. For specific information on child abduction to Japan, please visit WWW.CRNJAPAN.NET. To contact Jill Jones-Soderman, PLEASE CLICK HERE. To contact attorney Joel S. Walter, PLEASE CLICK HERE. To contact attorney Patricia M. Lee, PLEASE CLICK HERE. To contact Peter Thomas Senese, please visit www.peterthomassenese.com .