Washington: India is beginning to work with the US to find a solution to child abduction cases, a State Department official told lawmakers today, adding that she also pressed upon the Indian government to join the Hague Convention during her visit to the country.
"India is beginning to work with us to find practical solutions for children who are being abducted between our two countries," Suzanne I Lawrence, Special Advisor, Children's Issues Bureau of Consular Affairs at the Department of State, told members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee's Sub-committee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organisations.
Lawrence said she believed the development was a result of her recent trip to India and her persistent engagement on the International Parental Child Abductions (IPCA).
India is not party to the Hague Convention and has demonstrated a pattern of non-compliance as defined in the Act, she alleged.
India is not a signatory to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (Hague Abduction Convention), nor are there any bilateral agreements in force between India and the United States concerning international parental child abduction, according to the US State Department.
"In February of this year, I travelled to India to encourage government officials there to resolve the numerous abduction cases they have, and for India to join the Convention," Lawrence said. She said the United States in its bilateral meetings with the governments of India, Brazil and Indonesia have been raising the issue of IPCA.
While in the US, it is called abduction, most of such cases are a result of marital dispute wherein one of the parents stays with the child in India and quite often gets a court order in their favour, Lawrence said.
The State Department in its travel advisor for India cautions the US citizens for acting forcefully to get back their kids while in India. "Parental child abduction is not a crime in India. Parents may wish to consult with an attorney in the United States and in the country to which the child has been removed or retained to learn more about how filing criminal charges may impact a custody case in the foreign court," the State Department says in its travel advisor on India.
According to an annual State Department report, the US, in 2016, had as many as 83 alleged cases of abduction of American children. In 2015, the number was 74. The competent authorities in India persistently failed to work with the Department of State to resolve abduction cases. As a result of this failure, 66 per cent of requests for the return of abducted children have remained unresolved for more than 12 months. India has been cited as non-compliant since 2014," it said.
Without the Hague Abduction Convention or any other protocols intended to resolve abduction cases, parents generally must pursue custody of abducted children in Indian courts, the report said.
It said due to absence of any clear legal procedures for specifically addressing abduction cases under the Indian law, parents efforts to resolve custody disputes in local courts are often unsuccessful.
In June, 2016, when former President Barack Obama met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the US and India in a joint statement committed to renew efforts to address a range of issues affecting their citizens, including issues related to child custody. The issue was also raised by the then Secretary of State John Kerry.