Statement of the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC)

And Working Document

The Hague, Netherlands, 22-28 March 2001

Twenty years ago, the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction represented a bold step forward, an effort to provide a uniform process for resolving international child abduction cases. Over the past two decades, the Hague Convention has become an increasingly important and positive treaty, growing both in terms of State Parties and interest.

Today, on the occasion of the meeting of the Fourth Special Commission, the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children reaffirms its belief in and commitment to the treaty. As travel becomes faster and easier, and as multi-national marriages become even more frequent, the Hague Convention is more significant today than ever before.

Twice in the past three years, in collaboration with our American partner, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, we have convened professionals and experts in international child abduction to examine their experience with the Hague Convention. Just as you will examine a range of issues during this six-day meeting, so, too, did we attempt to reach consensus on what works and what does not.

The participants at both of these forums affirmed their overwhelming commitment to the Convention. Yet, we also were unified in the conclusion that there are serious shortcomings in its implementation:

There is a lack of awareness of the Convention and the problem of international child abduction by policy makers and the general public, making the successful resolution of cases more difficult.

In too many instances, the processes are too slow.

There is a lack of uniformity from country to country.

There is growing concern that key exceptions provided within the treaty to ensure reason and commonsense, have in some cases ceased to be viewed as exceptions and instead have become the rule, frequently used as justification for the non-return of children.

There is great concern about the growing difficulty involved with enforcing access rights for parents under Article 21 of the Convention.

In too many situations, parents need significant personal financial resources in order to obtain legal representation and proceed under the Convention, while there are areas in which there is little help for parents who lack financial resources.

Many of the judges hearing these cases have little or no prior knowledge or experience regarding the Convention, and there is also a serious lack of training for judges.

There are too many courts hearing cases, and in most instances, few cases per court. Thus, many judges lack knowledge and experience on Hague cases.

In many instances, even where courts order returns, the enforcement of those orders is lacking.

Thus, while we conclude that the treaty itself should not be modified, and that its original intent is more important than ever before, we also conclude that we must do far more to support and assist signatories, helping to ensure that the true intent of this Convention is realized.

THE PROPOSAL: The delegates to the Second International Forum on Parental Child Abduction, held at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, in November, 2000, adopted the following resolution:

“It is recommended that the Permanent Bureau produce and promote Practice Guides to assist in the implementation and operation of the Convention.”

The production of these guides would build upon recognized best practices under the Convention, and provide a framework for applying the Convention. The practices identified and included in the guides would not be legally binding upon signatory countries, but would serve as guidance to countries based upon research and the advice of experts in order to help ensure the most effective process possible.

The development of such Practice Guides would involve three stages: comparative research and consultations, meetings of expert committees to develop drafts, and consideration of the drafts by a future Special Commission. The process would be organised by the Permanent Bureau.

To make this proposal a reality, we recommend its adoption by the Fourth Special Commission at The Hague in March 2001.

The International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children is committed to assisting in any way possible in this effort, and promises its support in advancing this important goal.