Citizen's Guide To U.S. Federal Law On International Parental Kidnapping

18 U.S.C. § 1204– International parental kidnapping

          Section 1204 of Title 18, United States Code, makes it a federal crime for a parent to remove or attempt to remove a child from the United States, or retain a child outside the United States with intent to obstruct another parent's custodial rights.  A parent who removes a child from the United States in this capacity is subject to federal prosecution, and if convicted, faces fines and imprisonment for up to 3 years.

          It is important to distinguish between the prosecution of the parent who kidnapped a child and the return of that child to the United States. Extradition is the legal surrender of an alleged criminal to the jurisdiction of another country.  Although the parent who removed the child from the United States is generally eligible for formal extradition because they are charged with a federal crime, the child is a victim of international parental kidnapping and often not eligible for formal extradition.  In other words, federal prosecutors may investigate and prosecute the parent, but they typically have no control over the return of the child or custodial decisions affecting that child.

          The return of internationally kidnapped children is often settled through negotiation.  The U.S. Department of State handles the coordination of efforts with foreign officials and law enforcement agencies to effectuate the return of children to the United States.  In some circumstances, the return may be governed by the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Parental Child Abduction (1980).  This Convention was established to facilities the return of children abducted into foreign countries.  The Convention only applies if both countries involved in the international parental kidnapping situation are signatories to the Convention.  The United States is a signatory country.


Updated July 6, 2015