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In 1988, the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (Hague Convention) was ratified and the U.S. Department of State was designated to act as the U.S. Central Authority, the agency responsible for implementing the Convention in the United States. The Governor of California was requested to designate a state office or agency to serve as a point of contact in international child abduction cases. In response, the California Attorney General was designated to assist the U.S. Department of State in discharging its duties under the treaty in California. Subsequently, a Child Abduction Unit was developed within the Office of the Attorney General to ensure compliance with California’s obligations arising under the Hague Convention. Since that time, the Attorney General’s Office has functioned as the state agency designated with the responsibility of assisting the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Children’s Issues in fulfilling, within California, the United States’ obligations under the Hague Convention. California’s overall system for handling child abduction cases, both domestic and international, serves as a model for the rest of the United States and extends into the international arena, an area in which this office plays a central role within California.
The Child Abduction Unit serves as a liaison with officials from the U.S. and foreign Central Authorities, Consular Officials, judges, and local prosecutors and investigators, as the circumstances of particular cases require. In cases involving children abducted to and from Mexico, the Deputy Attorneys General of the Unit regularly work with U.S. and Mexican government officials, including officials in the Mexican Central Authority, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, the Mexican federal Attorney General’s Office, Mexican child protective services agencies, and others. Our office stays abreast of legal developments in the field and has filed amicus briefs in Hague Convention cases in the California Court of Appeal, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and in the United States Supreme Court.
Our office’s expertise in this area is nationally and internationally recognized. The Deputy Attorneys General of the Unit have served as members of the U.S. Delegation to the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Special Commission Meetings to Review the Operation of the Hague Child Abduction Convention held in The Hague. California was the only U.S. state invited to participate. Our office has served as a member of the U.S. Delegation to a meeting of Latin American countries organized by the Hague Permanent Bureau in conjunction with the Inter-American Institute for Children, an affiliate of the Organization of American States (OAS), and has participated in the working group to draft a regional model law for implementing the Hague Child Abduction Convention in Latin American countries.
The Deputy Attorneys General assigned to the Child Abduction Unit provide legal information and policy advice to California District Attorneys (DAs) on child abduction matters, both civil and criminal, including international cases, and respond to appeals filed by those convicted of child abduction crimes. This is a unique area of work in that it requires familiarity with not only the applicable criminal statutes, but also family law statutes and procedures.
The Child Abduction Unit attorneys and legal assistants coordinate the local prosecutors’ handling of requests for the return of abducted children pursuant to the Hague Convention. All Hague Convention cases received from abroad, including Mexico, which involve internationally abducted children believed to be located in California (incoming cases) are directed to our office. Our legal staff reviews the Hague applications, forwards the documents to the DA in the county where the child is believed to be located, provides guidance and technical support to DAs as needed on procedures and legal issues, and monitors the progress and outcomes of the cases.
California alone receives more of these cases than many countries. During the five-year period from 2007 through 2011, California received an average of 69 new incoming cases per year, approximately one-half of which were cases from Mexico. We handle about as many incoming cases from Mexico as we do outgoing cases to Mexico. In 2010, we received 31 cases from Mexico and sent 32 outgoing cases to Mexico. In 2011, we received 33 cases from, and sent 36 cases to, Mexico.
California’s case load is substantial even compared to other countries. In 2003, for example, California received 78 incoming Hague cases. During that same year, the entire country of Canada received only 67, Australia received 62, and France 55. Only three countries received more incoming cases than the entire state of California did that year: Germany (98), Spain (106), and the United Kingdom (159). California’s total number of incoming cases represented about 23% of the 345 cases received in the United States as a whole that year. Both globally and nationally, California is a significant source of the international child abduction cases handled, and approximately one-half of California’s cases are related to Mexico.
Under the direction of our Child Abduction Coordinator - Mexico, we assist California DAs seeking to use the Hague Convention to recover California children abducted to Mexico (outgoing cases). We help prepare the application packages, coordinate their delivery directly to Mexico and to the U.S. Department of State, monitor the cases through our contacts in the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City and in the Mexican Foreign Ministry, and coordinate the assistance of the Special Agents in our Foreign Prosecution and Law Enforcement Unit (FPLEU), one of whom will accompany a DA investigator traveling to Mexico to recover an abducted child for return to California.
Child Abduction Unit attorneys regularly participate in California District Attorneys Association (CDAA) Annual Child Abduction Seminars, at which we provide training on international child abduction. Our attorneys have also presented on international child abduction law and procedure at various other training conferences such as those organized by the California State Bar Annual Conference, the Los Angeles County Bar Association, the San Diego County Bar Association, and the American Bar Association. Our office also participates in the statewide California Child Abduction Task Force, which operates under the auspices of the California Emergency Management Agency to improve the response to child abduction throughout the state. Several times a year, the Task Force conducts free multidisciplinary trainings for professionals dealing with child abduction. These trainings have promoted improved handling of child abduction cases throughout the entire state of California.
Because so many of our Hague Convention cases involve children taken into and out of Mexico, the California Attorney General’s Office has made considerable efforts to improve communication between judges, child-protection officials, and prosecutors on both sides of the California/Mexico border who are involved in handling these cases. A joint effort by the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office, and the Mexican Consulate in San Diego has resulted in a series of one-day Binational Child Abduction Conferences. These conferences have allowed participants from both California and Mexico to develop a better understanding of how Hague Convention cases are handled in each country and improve communication and procedures for more effectively handling these cases. In addition, sessions on international parental kidnapping have been presented at the Border Attorneys General Conferences, where Attorneys General from states on both sides of the United States-Mexico border meet with prosecutors and law enforcement officials to discuss issues of mutual interest.
The Child Abduction Unit is currently in the process of updating the 2007 Attorney General’s Child Abduction Reference Manual. The Manual is the only publication of its kind directed at California prosecutors’ work on child abduction matters. While not accessible to the general public, the Manual is available to California district attorneys, judges, and law enforcement agencies. The Manual is accessible on-line and is password-protected. A description of the Manual can be found in the Library Collection of the National Criminal Justice Reference Service.
Currently, only the State of California, through the Attorney General’s Child Abduction Unit, systematically utilizes public agencies to assist in Hague Convention cases as an extension of local prosecutors’ existing responsibilities to recover parentally kidnapped children. For parents whose children have been stolen across borders and taken, in some cases, half-way around the world, this assistance is invaluable. California’s system for dealing with these cases has been recognized nationally and internationally as a model for the rest of the country.
California parents seeking information and assistance with an international child abduction matter should contact their local District Attorney’s Office and/or the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Children’s Issues at 1-888-407-4747. Additional information can be found on the State Department’s website.