Lawmakers Consider Issue of International Child Kidnappings

26 April, 2018

An American doctor recently gave an emotional speech about his son to Senate lawmakers in Washington.

Chris Brann told lawmakers on Tuesday about the abduction of his son Nicholas, whose mother moved him to Brazil in 2012. Brann said his experience of the loss "is best described as a living death."

Nicholas' mother, who was born in Brazil, is no longer married to Brann.

Such kidnapping is not unusual.

In the United States, hundreds of international child abductions by parents are reported each year. The rate of return of children is said to be about 45 percent.

Lawmakers of both American political parties say the U.S. can and must do a better job of recovering its youngest citizens. They say such abductions must be prevented.

Chuck Grassley is the Republican Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He said Congress and the administration can do more to end the kidnappings.

Laws against abductions

The United States is one of 82 countries that have signed the 1980 Hague Convention to fight international child abduction.

The agreement requires nations to quickly return minors illegally taken to other countries by a parent.

In the U.S., the 1993 International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act is a federal law. It established federal punishments for a parent who violates another parent's rights of custody.

Another law on the issue is the 2014 International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Act. It permits the State Department to punish nations that fail to help in solving international abduction cases involving American children. Punishments include public condemnation, suspending U.S. development aid or cancelling state visas.

However, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs, Carl Risch said the department did not often use such measures.

"Continued diplomatic engagement is our best tool to promote long-term institutional changes in foreign governments," he said.

Chris Brann is dissatisfied with efforts to bring back his son. He said the State Department is not using all the tools it can use.

FILE - Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, talks with the Committee's ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 12, 2017.
FILE - Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, talks with the Committee's ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 12, 2017.

Noelle Hunter also spoke to the committee. She told of how her former husband took her daughter Muna to Mali in 2011. The Senate's Republican leader Mitch McConnell led an effort to push Malian officials to return Muna. She came back to America in 2014.

Hunter said, "If every member of Congress with kidnapped constituents would begin to regularly inquire of federal agencies and the [foreign] nations in which they are held, these children are going to come home."

The committee's top Democratic Party member, Dianne Feinstein, supported efforts by lawmakers on the issue. But she said her state, California, had hundreds of parents with a child missing in another country.

Feinstein called for more power for the State Department and other to deal with the issue.

Federal officials say preventing abductions is the best way to deal with the problem. They note that a program is in place to have U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents act if a child is at risk of abduction.

Don Conroy directs the agency's National Targeting Center. He said, "Returning a child is sometimes very complex. Prevention is a key piece of this."

On the issue of abductions, both Democrats and Republicans said they want to see more done.

I'm Mario Ritter.

Michael Bowman reported this story for VOA News. Mario Ritter adapted it for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.


Words in This Story

abduction –n. to take someone away by force or against their will

custody –n. the responsibility to take care of a child

engagement –n. involvement in something

promote –v. to give support to something, to make people aware of something

institutional –adj. of or about an established organization

constituents –n. people who live and vote in an area

regularly –adv. usually

inquire –v. to ask about

key –adj. major; important

We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments section, and visit 51VOA.COM.