Foreign Affairs:

Specific Action Plan Needed to Improve Response to Parental Child Abductions

NSIAD-00-10: Published: Mar 29, 2000. Publicly Released: Mar 29, 2000.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on international parental child abductions, focusing on the adequacy of federal response to: (1) problems identified with the federal government's response to international parental child abductions; (2) the Department of Justice's (DOJ) use of the 1993 International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act to prosecute abducting parents; and (3) the actions federal agencies plan to take to address the problems.

GAO noted that: (1) the Department of State and DOJ, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and left-behind parents have identified problems and issues with the federal government's response to international parental child abduction; (2) these problems include the need for more systematic diplomatic efforts to work with foreign governments to resolve problems of noncompliance with the Hague Convention and the lack of services such as financial assistance and counseling to left-behind parents; (3) State and DOJ cited weaknesses in State's system for tracking and managing child abduction cases; (4) these problems create obstacles to left-behind parents in their attempts to locate, gain access to, and secure the return of their children; (5) DOJ's use of the 1993 International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act has been limited; (6) since 1993, DOJ has indicted 62 parents under the act, which resulted in 13 convictions; (7) left-behind parents believe DOJ has not used this law to sufficiently prosecute parents who abduct children from the United States; (8) DOJ believes that each abduction requires a review based on its merits to decide whether to prosecute an abducting parent, including whether such prosecution might compromise efforts to return a child under the Hague Convention; (9) both DOJ and State note that criminal prosecution seeks to punish abducting parents but does not seek or ensure the return of the child; (10) State and DOJ have recognized that they have problems and have planned actions they believe will correct most of them; (11) for example, they plan to close gaps in federal services to left-behind parents, develop an integrated case-tracking system to manage international child abduction cases, and undertake studies to improve compliance with the Hague Convention; (12) although some progress has been made in these areas, their plans lack the details necessary for effective implementation; and (13) for example, State and DOJ have not developed a clear strategy or plan that defines measurable goals, objectives, and resources required to fully implement their planned actions.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The agencies have developed an implementation plan which includes the dimensions GAO recommended. Resource requirements for the activities planned are included in the agencies' budgets. Included in the implementation plan are initiatives to periodically evaluate the program.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State and the Attorney General should develop an implementation plan, with measurable goals, objectives, time frames, and resources, needed to address problems with the federal response to international parental child abduction. In developing this plan, the State and DOJ should include provisions for monitoring the effectiveness of the initiatives as they are implemented.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The agency has developed an implementation plan containing the elements GAO identified; the plan is associated with resource requirements which are presented in the agency budget. It also includes steps to evaluate program initiatives as they are implemented.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State and the Attorney General should develop an implementation plan, with measurable goals, objectives, time frames, and resources, needed to address problems with the federal response to international parental child abduction. In developing this plan, the State and DOJ should include provisions for monitoring the effectiveness of the initiatives as they are implemented.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice

 

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