India is beginning to work with the US to find “practical solutions ” to child abduction cases, a State Department official told lawmakers today, asserting that the development was a result of her meetings with Indian officials and urging the government to join the Hague Convention during her visit to the country. Suzanne I Lawrence, Special Advisor Children’s Issues Bureau of Consular Affairs at the Department of State, told members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organisations that India was not a party to the Hague Convention and has demonstrated a pattern of non-compliance as defined in the Act. India is not a signatory to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (Hague Abduction Convention), nor are there any bilateral agreements in force between India and the US concerning international parental child abduction, according to the US State Department. “India is beginning to work with us to find practical solutions for children who are being abducted between our two countries,” Lawrence said. Lawrence said she believed the development was a result of her recent trips to India and her persistent engagement on the International Parental Child Abductions (IPCA).
“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,” Lawrence said. She said the US in its bilateral meetings with the governments of India, Brazil and Indonesia had been raising the issue of IPCA. 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 favour, Lawrence said. The State Department in its travel advisor for India cautions the US citizens for acting forcefully to get back their kids while in India.
“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 State Department says in its travel advisor on India. According to an annual State Department report, the US, in 2016, had as many as 83 alleged cases of abduction of American children. In 2015, the number was 74. “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,” it said.
Without the Hague Abduction Convention or any other protocols intended to resolve abduction cases, parents generally must pursue custody of abducted children in Indian courts, the report said. It said due to absence of any clear legal procedures for specifically addressing abduction cases under the Indian law, parents efforts to resolve custody disputes in local courts were often unsuccessful. In June, 2016, when former US President Barack Obama met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the US and India in a joint statement committed to renew efforts to address a range of issues affecting their citizens, including issues related to child custody. The issue was also raised by the then Secretary of State John Kerry.