- Creation of a specialist pool of judges to hear cases;
- A focus on delivering judicial education to those who need it, particularly on the Hague Convention;
- A mandatory reporting system;
- Mandated acceptance of missing child reports by the State Police;
- Introduction of criminal offenses for international child abduction, both TO and FROM Virginia; and
- The freezing and liquidation of abductor's assets and their accomplices.
OUTLINE OF PROPOSED INTERNATIONAL CHILD ABDUCTION PREVENTION & RECOVERY BILL
The purpose of the proposed legislation is to deter international child abductions (ICA) and to render practical assistance to left-behind parents in the recovery of abducted children.
The proposed bill is a no-cost to taxpayers measure.
This bill will also place the Commonwealth at the forefront of international child abduction protection developments in the United States.
The bill will also contain measures to recognize the plight of children internationally abducted to the Commonwealth of Virginia from abroad.
The bill will also contain criminal penalties for non-compliance as well as provide for better-educated and experienced judges to deal with matters concerning international child issues, by ensuring adherence to existing federal guidelines (the “risk factors”) and by focusing educational efforts on a select pool of judges to deal with these issues.
1. Creation of a Pool of Judges
Currently, all state, circuit and county judges have jurisdiction over international child matters, notably with the use of the primary international treaty, The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (1980). This has led to inexperienced judges dealing with cases for which they are ill-suited by training, experience and temperament.
Creating a pool of judges who will be automatically assigned to hear international child issues will ensure that current educational resources are focused upon a smaller group of judges who will also be able to gain the appropriate level of experience to handle a frequently complex area of law.
2. Judicial Education
As stated in 1. above, creating a select pool of judges to handle international cases of visitation, custody and abduction will improve judicial outcomes for children and parents, as well as serve to improve the reputation of the Commonwealth as a model for handling such cases.
Educational resources will be more focused and of greater depth and value to those judges assigned or selected to constitute the pool. Particularly, greater awareness will be achieved of the issues and the framework which exists at federal and international level to assist in resolution of international child abduction and retentions, both of children abducted overseas and of children abducted from overseas to the Commonwealth.
3. Mandatory Reporting System
Currently, there is no reporting system or central repository of information on international child abduction at state or federal level. This results in confusion and disagreement on the scale of the problem of international child abduction cases. The US Department of State’s Office of Childrens Issues does not collect or collate statistics which have generic or specific value; many cases fall between the cracks in the current framework as a consequence, indeed many go unreported.
It shall be mandated that international child abductions to and from the Commonwealth be collated by a central repository body.
4. Mandatory Reporting & Law Enforcement
Upon a child not being returned to the jurisdiction, on the following day the left-behind parent shall be allowed to make, and law enforcement compelled to accept, a missing child report.
The missing child report shall be made to State Police.
Upon a child being internationally abducted to the jurisdiction, State Police shall be compelled to accept directly from the overseas left-behind parent a missing child report, or may accept one through foreign law enforcement or other administrative or law enforcement agency.
Reports shall be filed in person, by email, by telephone or by fax or any other communication medium available.
Immediately, State Police shall:
i. Enter the child as a missing child into the federal NCIC;
ii. Notify the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC); and
iii. Notify the State designated repository (see 3. above).
5. Criminal Aspects
Outgoing cases: after a 30-day grace period for the voluntary return of the child, the removal/retention shall be deemed a criminal offense.
Incoming cases: within 30 days of abduction to the Commonwealth of Virginia, the child shall be voluntarily returned. Failure to return shall be a criminal offense. Further removal of the child out of state shall be an additional criminal offense (to tackle state-hopping behavior).
6. Freezing & Liquidating Property & Assets of Abductors and Accomplices
The cost of recovering children is enormous; frequently running to hundreds of thousands of dollars for both resident and alien left-behind parents. The assets of abductors and those who render assistance and succor shall be liable to be immediately frozen upon reporting to State Police. If, after 30 days, the child is not returned, those assets are to be considered forfeit and may be liquidated to provide the left-behind parent with the funds necessary to mount recovery of their child.