It happens: a parent kidnapping his or her own child and fleeing for
parts unknown, often overseas.
It’s our job to help find these abducted kids. Our field offices
across the country serve as the primary points of contact for those seeking
our help. To request our assistance or learn more about our services,
please contact the Crimes Against Children Coordinator at your local
How is a missing child defined? By law (specifically the 1982 Missing
Children’s Act), it’s any person younger than 18 whose whereabouts
are unknown to his or her legal custodian. Under the act, the circumstances
surrounding the disappearance must indicate that the child was removed
from the control of his or her legal custodian without the custodian's
consent, or the circumstances of the case must strongly indicate that
the child is likely to have been abused or sexually exploited.
Options under the law. Two federal criminal investigative options and
one non-criminal or civil method may be pursued when a child is abducted
by a parent and taken over state lines or outside the U.S.
The International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act
(IPKCA) of 1993: A
criminal arrest warrant can be issued for a parent who takes a juvenile
under 16 outside of the U.S. without the other custodial parent's permission.
Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution (UFAP)—Parental
Kidnapping: When criminal charges are filed by a state that requests
our help, a
criminal arrest warrant can be issued for an abducting parent who
flees across state lines or internationally. See below for more details.
The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International
In nations that have signed the Hague Convention, there is a civil process
that facilitates the return of abducted children under 16 to their home
countries. See below for more details.
The criminal processes enable the arrest of the abducting parent but
do not specifically order the return of the child, although the child
is usually returned when the parent is apprehended. The civil process,
on the other hand, facilitates the return of the child but in no way
seeks the arrest or return of the abductor. As a result, a criminal process
would not be pursued if circumstances indicate it will jeopardize an
active Hague Convention civil process.
Based on these considerations, we pursue criminal action in international
parental kidnappings on a case-by-case basis. We take into account all
the factors and guidance among the impacted state and federal law enforcement
agencies, state and/or federal prosecutors, the Department of State,
the Department of Justice, and the left-behind parent.
It’s important to understand: The FBI has
no investigative jurisdiction outside the U.S., except on the high
seas and other locations specifically
granted by Congress. We work through our existing partnerships with
international authorities through the U.S. Department of State, our Legal
Attaché program, and Interpol.
The U.S. Department of State receives approximately 1,200 new Hague and non-Hague cases annually. If you are a left-behind parent, please see the Department of Justice’s International Parental Kidnapping webpage for more information.
More Details on the Unlawful Flight to Avoid Prosecution—Parental
Our authority in parental kidnapping cases stems from the Fugitive
Felon Act as part of Title 18,
United States Code, Section 1073 – UFAP.
Although this statute most commonly applies to fugitives who flee
interstate and/or internationally, Congress has
specifically declared that the statute is also applicable in cases
involving interstate or international parental kidnapping. Because
flee with their own children, the statute serves as an effective
means for the FBI to help local and state law enforcement arrest
In order for the FBI to assist with a UFAP arrest warrant, the following
criteria must be met:
There must be probable cause to believe the abducting parent has fled
interstate or internationally to avoid prosecution or confinement.
State authorities must have an outstanding warrant for the abductor's
arrest charging him/her with a felony under the laws of the state from
which the fugitive flees.
State authorities must agree to extradite and prosecute that fugitive
from anywhere in the U.S. if the subject is apprehended by the FBI.
The local prosecuting attorney or police agency should make a written
request for FBI assistance.
The U.S. Attorney must authorize the filing of a complaint, and the
federal arrest process must be outstanding before the investigation is
More Details on the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects
of International Child Abduction
To assist with the recovery of children abducted internationally, the
U.S. implemented federal legislation under the International Child Abduction
Remedies Act by signing the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of
International Child Abduction in 1988. The Hague Convention is an agreement
among its signatories that states:
...a child under 16 years of age who is habitually resident in a country
party to the Hague Convention, and who is removed to or retained in another
country party to the Convention in breach of the left-behind parent's
custody rights, shall be promptly returned to the country of habitual
countries of the treaty are obligated, with certain limited exceptions and conditions,
to return an internationally abducted child under 16 to the country
they habitually reside if an application to the Hague Convention
is made within one year from the date of the wrongful abduction.
The Hague Convention
only applies to abductions between countries who have signed
Each signatory country has designated a Central Authority to carry out
specialized duties under the Convention. The U.S. Department of State,
Office of Children's Issues, has been designated as the Central Authority
under the Hague Convention for the United States. Questions concerning
the Hague Convention should be addressed to the Department of State,
Office of Children's Issues at:
U.S. Department of State
Office of Children's Issues
SA-29, 4th Floor, 2201 C. Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20520-2818
(202) 736-9133 (fax)
For more information about our current parental abduction cases
and to help us find these children, visit our Wanted
by the FBI Parental
Crimes Against Children home