US law plans penalties for refusing to return American children abducted by parents

January 6 , 2014


A law that is in the making in the US has the potential to further strain India-America ties that are already hit by a row over the arrest of Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade in New York.


The Senate is set to consider a Bill that seeks to empower the US president to impose tough penalties on any country that refuses to return American children “abducted” by their own parents. The legislation that has already passed the House of Representatives covers cases where one of the parents  takes his or her child away from the US and relocates to a foreign country, sources in the US government said.

India is among the top 10 destinations of “parental abduction of children”. The number of such “abducted” American children in India was 95 at the end of 2012. These cases originate from marital discords in Indian-American families and involve one parent relocating to India with the children to pre-empt legal actions by the other parent in the US.

The provisions in the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction Prevention and Return Bill could trigger legal battles between India and the US.

Under the proposed law, the US president could take action against India and other countries which either have not signed the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction or do not have any agreements with the US for the repatriation of children subjected to global “parental abductions”. The steps the US president could take include limiting security assistance, withdrawal of development assistance and using diplomatic tools to block loans from the World Bank and the IMF, apart from imposing visa restrictions, sources said.

As many as 90 countries including the US, Russia and China are signatories to the Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. It provides for expeditious return of a child abducted internationally by a parent from one member country to another with the interventions of the two governments. Except Sri Lanka, no other South Asian country has signed the Convention.

India’s Ministry of Law and Justice is of the view that if India signs the pact, it would put Indian women married to non-resident Indians or foreign nationals to disadvantage in cases of divorces and legal battles over the custody of children, Indian government sources said. This is also one of the reasons why India has not signed a bilateral agreement with the US for cooperation in such cases, they said.

The Law Commission of India, however, had recommended in 2009 that India should accede to the Hague Convention. New Delhi is currently analyzing the implications of the Bill passed by the House of Representatives, sources said.


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