In recent times, stories that underline the need for improved rights for children in India have rippled across the media, with voices around the globe calling for stronger reforms. Yet, in an unprecedented move, it would appear that India might be open to working with the United States to tackle parental child abduction.
The Hague Convention of 25 October 1980 on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is a multilateral treaty developed by the Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH) that provides an expeditious method to return a child internationally abducted by a parent from one country to another.
India is currently not one of the signatories of the treaty, which makes it an untouched and unspoiled haven for parental kidnapping.
The Economic reported that in a meeting with Indian officials, Suzanne Lawrence, Special Advisor Children’s Issues Bureau of Consular Affairs at the Department of State, highlighted the need for the country to join The Hague convention. She said:
“India is beginning to work with us to find practical solutions for children who are being abducted between our two countries.
“In February of this year, I travelled to India to encourage government officials there to resolve the numerous abduction cases they have, and for India to join the Convention.
“While in the US it is called abduction, most of such cases are a result of marital dispute wherein one of the parents stays with the child in India and quite often gets a court order in their favor.”
Since there are no laws against parental child abduction in India, it is not regarded as a criminal offense. The only solution for “left behind” parents is to proceed with legal action–which, in the Indian judicial system, could take years to resolve. And amidst court hearings, it is also likely that there can be an order placed which restricts the “left behind” parent from having contact with their child until the court issues a ruling.
According to recent figures, in 2016 there were as many as 83 cases of alleged parental child abduction of American children.
A statement from the State Department outlined India’s failings:
“Parental child abduction is not a crime in India. Parents may wish to consult with an attorney in the United States and in the country to which the child has been removed or retained to learn more about how filing criminal charges may impact a custody case in the foreign court.”
“The competent authorities in India persistently failed to work with the Department of State to resolve abduction cases. As a result of this failure, 66 per cent of requests for the return of abducted children have remained unresolved for more than 12 months. India has been cited as non-compliant since 2014.”
For over a decade, the Indian government has been working towards signing The Hague convention, yet there have been no further developments as it would require amendments and changes to Indian laws.
As there are no bilateral agreements between the US and India regarding parental child abduction in India, there is an undisputed prerequisite for such a policy to be implemented.