To Whom it may concern:

This letter is written to provide information concerning the prevention of
international parental child abduction. Since the late 70's, the Office of
Overseas Citizens Services in the Department of State has taken action in
over 7,000 cases of international parental child abduction, including
wrongful removals of children and wrongful retentions after court-ordered
visitation. We also have provided information in response to thousands of
additional inquiries pertaining to international child abduction, enforcement
of visitation rights, and abduction prevention techniques. Our office works
closely with parents and attorneys in the United States to prevent
international abductions and the pain and suffering they bring to the
victims, both the children and their left-behind parents.

By law, our consular officers overseas do not have the authority to take
custody of American children and return them to parents in the United States.
Therefore, it is important to prevent an international parental abduction
from ever occurring. If you believe your child is a potential victim of
international parental abduction, we suggest that you immediately put in
place some of the preventative measures available.

If you do not already have a custody order, file the necessary legal papers
to obtain one. Enlist the assistance of an attorney for this. If you cannot
afford an attorney, you may qualify for reduced legal aid, or may be eligible
to seek assistance from a local law school clinic. You should request the
court to prohibit the removal of the child from the U.S. and to order the
child's other parent to surrender any passports (U.S. or foreign) that may
have been obtained for the child. You may also wish to ask the court to limit
or restrict unsupervised visitation with the child's other parent.

You should forward a copy of your custody order to the Passport Services
Office of the U.S. Department of State and ask them not to issue a passport
to your child without your permission. Your child may be a citizen of another
country as well, and as such could travel abroad on a foreign passport.
Issuance of a foreign passport is a matter within the control of the
particular country involved, and the U.S. Government has no role in a foreign
country's decision to issue a passport to its citizen. Therefore, you may
wish to send a certified copy of your custody order to that country's embassy
in the U.S. requesting that they too not issue a passport without your
permission. However, they are under no obligation to honor your request.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction,
which has been joined by 54 nations including the United States (list of
party countries enclosed), offers some relief in an international parental
child abduction situation. This Convention attempts to discourage the use of
abduction as a means of resolving a custody matter, by requiring (with few
exceptions) the abducted child to be returned to the country where it resided
prior to the alleged abduction. You should consult with your attorney
concerning the advisability of incorporating the precepts of the Convention
into any future custody decree to prevent an abduction.

Return of a parentally abducted or wrongfully retained child is more
difficult in countries that are not party to the Hague Abduction Convention.
In fact, in many countries, there is a probability that return will never
occur. This is because child custody is a private legal matter between
parents, and the U.S. Government has no formal mechanism to effect return of
the child. As a general rule, foreign courts are under no obligation to give
legal effect to a custody decree issued by a U.S. Court. Therefore, when a
child is parentally abducted or wrongfully retained, the left-behind parent
must initiate legal proceedings in that foreign country to regain custody of
the child. Legal proceedings, however, do not guarantee a judgment in your
favor. If you fear that your child could be abducted to a non-Hague
Convention country, it is imperative that you take all the preventative
measures available.

Please refer to the enclosed booklet, "International Parental Child
Abduction," for further information on passport issuance prevention, custody
orders and the Hague Convention, and for additional prevention information.
We hope this information is helpful. If you have further questions, please do
not hesitate to contact this office at (202) 736-7000, or visit our home page
at http:\\travel.state.gov.

Office of Children's Issues
Bureau of Consular Affairs
United States Department of State

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