Parental Child Abductions to Mexico on the Rise

The number of parental abductions of children to Mexico continues to increase.  Here’s a good article on the subject (KPBS, 10/5/11).

It follows two American fathers whose former partners abducted their children to Mexico and the high expectations and crushing disappointments they continue to face.

At 9 a.m. on a recent Friday, Brian Duzet crossed the border from San Diego to Tijuana by foot. Blonde, with blue eyes, Duzet wears baggy jeans and flip-flops, even on a chilly Fall day. But he wasn’t in Tijuana for fun, like many other Americans who come on foot. He had come to see his daughter, Sam.

Three years ago, Duzet and his Mexican girlfriend split up, with shared custody of Sam. But one morning, she picked the little girl up and disappeared. Hours passed. Duzet began to worry. He left multiple messages on his ex-girlfriend”s cell phone. By the next morning, he suspected the worst: Sam had been taken to Mexico, without her father’s permission. She was abducted.

Duzet may count himself luckier than most.  That’s because he actually got assistance from the U.S. State Department, the FBI and Mexican police.  But all they did was find his ex and his daughter.  They’re right there in Tijuana, a stone’s throw from the U.S. border, and there’s not a thing anyone can do to regain custody for Duzet.  He sees his daughter once a week as per court order, for a “meeting.”

He’s spent $100,000 in legal and travel expenses, and appears no closer to getting his daughter back than he ever was.  Every word about him suggests that the status quo won’t be changed any time soon, if ever.  Duzet sounds resigned.

“Someday I”m going to have to explain this all to her,” said Duzet, standing outside his ex-girlfriend’s Tijuana home, preparing himself to go in for his weekly court-mandated meeting with Sam.

“I don”t think now is appropriate. My daughter is smart enough to know there is something wrong,” the father said. “Sometimes kids act more adult than adults do.’

His resignation is probably appropriate.  Mexico has the worst record of compliance with the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction of any signatory nation.  That’s mostly because Mexican law places mothers above fathers in custody matters.  For example in Mexico, mothers automatically get sole custody of any child under the age of seven.  That extreme anti-father bias extends to non-Mexican fathers in abduction cases, as dads like Brian Duzet can tell us.

Now, the article says that the U.S. is getting more cooperation out of Mexican authorities of late, which may be true.  But it’s not Mexican diplomats that matter in cases of abduction, it’s the courts.  They’re the ones that either enforce the terms of the Hague Convention or don’t and, the rule seems to be that they don’t.  After all, the Convention calls for return of abducted children within 60 days.  I’ve never heard of a single case in which Mexican courts did that.  In fact, I’ve never heard of a case in which they got close.

Indeed, the only prompt return of an abducted child from Mexico occurred in a case in which the Hague Convention was completely ignored.  That happened just a matter of months ago and it involved the abduction of a grandchild of a U.S. Congressman.  And that’s no accident.  In that case, the child was abducted, found and returned to its father (the Congressman’s son) in a matter of days.  The abducting mother was arrested and extradited to the U.S. just as quickly.  Funny how that works when a Congressman’s involved.  No Convention procedures were followed.

But most people are like Brian Duzet and Trevor Richardson.  The authorities don’t jump when they say “jump.”  They have to go through legal channels which more and more means they likely won’t see their children until they’re grown up.  Many people have complained about the dysfunction of the U.S. State Department that’s charged with standing up for the rights of American parents who have been “left behind.”

Trevor Richardson, another San Diego “left-behind parent,” said he has reached out to the Mexican Consulate, the state department, and the FBI to no avail. His son was abducted four years ago, and he remembered thinking he would be able to get him back in a matter of months.

“I also remember thinking to myself that somehow I would be protected,” Richardson said. “Protected by our laws, and our courts, and our law enforcement, our government, the FBI.’

…”We have the laws right now, they are there, they just need to be enforced,” said Richardson, holding on to a photo of Andrew, his son. “Maybe when it comes to dealing with immigration policy with Mexico, child abductions kind of fall through the cracks a little bit, because there is bigger fish to fry.”

Richardson said he holds on to hope. But he cannot help but feel that in relation to other bi-national issues, his son”s abduction is at the bottom of a very long list.

That’s been the common complaint among all left behind parents – the U.S. State Department is far more interested in commercial relations with Mexico than anything else.  And it’s not about to let a few annoying fathers disturb a good thing. 

With a Hague Convention that’s all but useless in Mexican courts, it’s no surprise that abductions to that country are on the rise, from 300 a year just three years ago, to 500 last year.  Increasingly, Mexico seems to be seen by abducting parents to be a safe haven for themselves and their wrongdoing.  Who would argue?

What’s also not surprising is that a small cottage industry in “reverse abductions” has grown up, albeit beneath the radar of law enforcement.  The simple fact is that there are people who are ready, willing and able to travel to Mexico and snatch an abducted child and bring him/her back to the United States and the left behind parent.

It’s not legal, but what’s anyone going to do, force the return of an abducted child to its abducting parent?  Not likely.

Actually, theres’ another culprit in all this – the Hague Convention itself.  I’ll blog about that in my next piece.

Thanks to Marcy for the heads-up.

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