It is estimated that a child goes missing every 9 minutes in Canada. When we think of child abduction, we often picture a stranger snatching our child as they walk home from school. However, the majority of child abductions are committed by someone the child knows and, in many cases, the abductor is a parent. There were 237 parental abductions in 2009, compared to 50 stranger abductions. Parental Abduction is defined as, “the wilful taking of a child with the intent of depriving the other parent, guardian or any other person having lawful care and charge of that child of the possession of that child.”(RCMP). This may at first seem like a benign form of abduction, but it is important to realize that parental abduction is a crime and can have a serious impact on the left-behind parent, the family, and the abducted child.
Motives for Parental Abduction
Parents may abduct their children for several different reasons. A common motive is for revenge and as a power play. These parents believe that they have not been treated fairly in a custody battle and may feel misrepresented in court. They will take their child both to hurt the other parent, and simply to assert that they are capable of doing so. Some parents abduct their child out of fear for the child’s safety. This is common in cases where a spouse, usually the wife, is abused by her partner. She will usually take her child to protect him or her from abuse. Shares custody parents may fear that their child is subject to neglect and endangerment when with the other parent.
Profile of Abductors
- Both mother and father are equally likely to abduct their child. Mothers tend to do so after a court order while fathers tend to abduct the child before the court order is made.
- Mothers tend to keep their abducted child longer than fathers. But most parental abductions are short and are resolved in about 7 days.
- Parent abductors tend to be between the ages of 28 and 40.
- Although socio-economic factors vary from case to case, fathers tend to be employed and mothers tend not to be.
- Most abducted children are young, between the ages of 3 and 7. Children who are taken out of the country are usually older, over 8 years of age.
- Male and female children are equally likely to be abducted.
- Children are usually abducted from the home, and abductions usually take place during weekends or holidays (summer, Christmas break, March break.).
- Various modes of transportation are used and accomplices (commonly other family members or a current partner) are used in about 50% of the cases.
- Physical or sexual abuse is not common and only occurs in a very small percentage of these abductions.
- Most ‘left-behind’ parents report the abduction immediately; however some will delay reporting the incident.
Although each case has different circumstances, this general profile provides police with information that will help them to locate and recover the missing child.
Parental Abduction is a criminal offence, and can be found under section 283(1) in the Criminal Code which states:
Everyone who, being the parent, guardian or person having the lawful care or charge of a person under the age of fourteen years, takes, entices away, conceals, detains, receives or harbours that person, whether or not there is a custody order in relation to that person made by a court anywhere in Canada, with intent to deprive a parent or guardian, or any other person who has the lawful care or charge of the possession of that person, is guilty of
- an indictable offence and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years; or
- an offence punishable on summary conviction.
- No one can be found guilty of the abduction offence (under sections 281 to 283) if they are able to establish that there was consent by the parent, guardian or other person having lawful possession, care or charge of that young person.
- No one can be found guilty of an offence under sections 280 to 283 if the court is satisfied that the abduction of the young person was “… necessary to protect the young person from danger of imminent harm or if the person charged with the offence was escaping from danger of imminent harm.”
Importantly, a parent who abducts their child cannot make a defence by claiming that the child consented to or suggested the abduction.
Section 282(2) pertains to abduction in contravention of the custody provisions set out in a custody order and is essentially the same as what has been set out in section 283(1). However, if an individual is not proven guilty under Section 282, they can still be found guilty under Section 283(1).
International (Cross Border) Child Abductions
International child abductions involve either a parent abducting their child and taking them out of the country, or a parent in another country who prevents the child from returning home to the other parent. Revenge is often a strong motive behind this type of abduction, and the abducting parent will often try to turn the child against the other parent by convincing him/her that the other parent does not care for or love them. If you are worried that your child’s other parent may take him/her out of the country, you may notify a local passport office to have your child’s name placed on the passport control list which will put officials on alert (you need to provide certain documentation to do this). If your child is a dual-citizen, however, this may not be sufficient. The media can have either a mixed influence in abduction cases. Media attention may assist in fuelling the international search for a missing child, or it may cause the abducting parent to go into hiding.
The Hague Convention
Over 30 years ago, the international community recognized the need for a program to ensure cooperation between countries as a way to resolve and prevent international parental abduction cases. Canada was the second country to ratify this Convention which came into effect on December 1, 1983. The Hague convention has two objectives. The first is to ensure the prompt return of an abducted child to his/her home country and the second objective is to ensure that the rights of custody/ access to the child under the law of one contracting state are respected in the other contracting states.
- The child was a resident of Canada immediately before the abduction
- The wrongful abduction was in breach of rights of custody/access to the child
- At the time of the abduction, the convention applied between Canada and the country to which the abducted child was taken.
- The child is under 16 years of age.
If the convention applies to the country (or area of the country) to which a child has been taken, authorities can provide a parent with the appropriate paperwork. The Canadian central authority will forward the documents to the foreign central authority that will then pass them along to the local judicial authority. If the child will not be returned voluntarily, a court hearing may take place. If all conditions are met and no exceptions apply, the foreign court will order the return of the child.
- The accused parent is able to prove that the other parent consented to the child’s removal/ later acquiesced to it or was not exercising custody rights when the child was abducted/ retained.
- The child may be at risk of physical or psychological harm or be placed in an intolerable situation if returned.
- The child objects to being returned and is old enough and mature enough to have his/her opinion taken into account.
There are no costs associated with The Hague Convention application process; however there may be costs associated with the legal proceedings and travel costs.
There are currently 80 countries who have signed the Hague convention: Albania, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Belarus, Belgium, Belize, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Canada, Chile, China (Hong Kong), China (Macao), Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, FYR of Macedonia, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Saint Kitts and Nevis, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay, USA, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe.
Note: In some countries, the Hague Convention pertains to only certain provinces, states, or territories of the country.
Effects On The Victims
The Left-Behind Family
The first thing that the left-behind family experiences is shock and disbelief. They cannot believe that their loved one has been taken away by a fellow family member. Panic as to the whereabouts of the child and how to get proper assistance will cause both the left-behind parent and any left-behind siblings to experience serious emotional distress.
The left-behind parent often has an incredibly difficult time maintaining work commitments while searching for their child. Feelings of anger, resentment, fear, anxiety, despair, loneliness, and guilt are common emotions. Most left-behind parents also suffer from disturbances in sleep patterns, loss of appetite, and severe depression. The emotional turmoil might also manifest in physical symptoms such as re-occurring headaches and nausea. And in some situations, the parent may turn to drugs or alcohol to handle the pain.
Any left-behind siblings also experience the pain of the loss of their brother/sister. Like the left-behind parents, the siblings also experience a variety of emotions and physical ailments. Since their parent is so focused on the return of the kidnapped child, the other children may feel neglected and develop hostile feelings towards the kidnapped child for taking all of the attention.
The Abducted Child
Despite the fact that the abducted child is with their parent or guardian, the experience can be terrifying and cause long-term damage. Often these children will live the life of a fugitive; dragged around by their parent from place to place in an effort to avoid authorities. The distress of suddenly losing friends and family and having to deal with constantly changing environments is an incredibly stressful experience. Even when the child is safely returned he/she will still be affected by the experience. A fear of abandonment and loss of trust are common issues for children who have been kidnapped by a parent. They may also suffer from depression, loneliness, excessive fearfulness, helplessness and anger. There are a number of mental disorders that are commonly associated with parental child abductions such as separation anxiety disorder, ADHD, PTSD, eating disorders, learning disabilities and conduct disorder. As the experience of abduction can have such a traumatic effect on the child, it is important that the parent or guardian get the child proper help as soon as he or she is returned.
One of the most important things a parent can do to help avoid parental abduction is to remain on good terms with the other parent and try to remain on good terms with the child’s other grandparents. If you expect that your child is at risk of abduction, make sure to talk to him or her. Explain how the custody situation works, teach them how to use the phone (especially 911 and long distance), make sure that your children know that you love them, and listen to them – information they provide may be your first clue. Keep track of what they wear on a daily basis. Keep records of all important information and store it in a safe place that is unknown or inaccessible to the other parent. As indicated earlier, it is also possible to add your child to the passport control list.
If your child is abducted by the other parent, get in touch with local authorities immediately. Provide them with any information you have and limit access to your home until law enforcement has collected any possible evidence. Contact the birth certificate office to block any application for a birth certificate by the abducting parent (you will need specific documentation to do this). Contact any search organizations such as Child Find and register your child as missing. If you plan to go to the media, ask the police for help and advice on the best way to do so. Most importantly, take care of yourself and your family, you need to be strong for your child and any other children left behind.
Additional Resources for Abducted Children
- Child Find Canada (1-800-387-7962): http://www.childfind.ca/
- Missing Children Society of Canada (1.800.661.6160): http://www.mcsc.ca/
- Our Missing Children Canada (1.877.318.3576): http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/omc-ned/index-accueil-eng.htm
- Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada: http://www.international.gc.ca/index.aspx
Child Find Ontario. “Parents Stealing Children.” http://www.ontario.childfind.ca/parentsstealing.html
Criminal Code, 2009.
Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada. :International Child Abductions: A Guide for Parents.
Haley, Karma. “Parental Abduction.” Children Today. http://www.childrentoday.com/articles/general-safety-issues/parental-abduction-2195/3/
RCMP. “Parental Abduction of Children: An Overview and profile of the Abductor.” December 22, 2008. http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/pubs/omc-ned/parent-eng.htm
RCMP. “The Left-Behind Parent’s View of the Parental Abduction Experience.” December 22, 2008. http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/pubs/omc-ned/leftbe-laisderr-eng.htm
RCMP. “The Police and Parental Abduction.” December 22, 2008. http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/pubs/omc-ned/police-eng.htm
RCMP. “2009 Missing Children Reference Report: National Missing Children Services.” May 25, 2010. http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/pubs/omc-ned/an-ra/annrep-rappann-09-eng.htm