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International Parental Child Abduction


DISCLAIMER: The information in this flyer relating to the legal requirements of specific foreign countries is provided for general information only. Questions involving interpretation of specific foreign laws should be addressed to foreign legal counsel. .

Since the mid-1970's, when we first began compiling statistics on this subject, the Department of State has taken action in more than 4,200 cases where children have either been abducted from the United States or wrongfully detained in a foreign country. We have provided information in response to thousands of additional inquiries regarding child custody, visitation rights and effective abduction prevention techniques such as supervised visitation.

The Office of Overseas Citizens Services has taken an active role in almost 80 cases of children taken to or wrongfully retained in Iran. To our knowledge, the majority of these cases have not been resolved. However, in a number of cases, the left-behind parent has kept open the lines of communication, negotiated with the abducting parent, and eventually persuaded the other parent to travel out of Iran with the children.

The United States severed diplomatic and consular relations with the Government of Iran on April 7, 1980 as a result of the events surrounding the seizure of our Embassy in Tehran, Iran on November 4, 1979. In April of 1980, the United States Government formally asked the Swiss Government if it would assume diplomatic and consular representation of the United States in Iran. The Swiss agreed to perform specific consular and administrative functions on behalf of the U.S. Government.

One of their responsibilities is to provide consular services to children who have been taken by one parent to Iran without the other parent's knowledge or consent. In this regard, Swiss officials are permitted to ascertain the child's welfare, process applications for U.S. passports and to inform appropriate officials if there are allegations of child abuse. However, the Iranian government has placed strict limits on the ability of Swiss diplomats to intervene in such cases because they do not recognize the concept of dual nationality and therefore, when one parent is an Iranian citizen, consider the children involved to be Iranian citizens only.

Swiss diplomats in Iran do not have the authority to take custody of and return a child to the United States, just as foreign diplomats in the U.S. cannot remove children from this country. Such an action would be considered kidnapping under local law.

If you are concerned about a potential abduction, one of the first steps you should take is to notify the Department's Office of Legal Assistance and Citizenship Appeals. That office, which can be reached on (202) 326-6178, can block the issuance of a U.S. passport in your child's name upon submission of a court order giving you sole custody or prohibiting the child's departure from the U.S. without permission of the court. That office can also tell you whether your spouse has already applied for and obtained a passport for your child. However, if a passport has already been issued for the child, that office cannot revoke the passport or prevent its use.

If the child's father is an Iranian citizen, the child is considered an Iranian citizen under Iranian law and could travel abroad on an Iranian passport. There is nothing the Department of State can do to prevent the issuance of an Iranian passport by the Iranian Interests Section of the Embassy of Algeria.

You may wish to notify the Iranian Interests Section that you would object to your child receiving a passport without your consent. At that time, you could ask whether they have already issued a passport for the child. The address and the telephone number of the Iranian Interests Section of the Embassy of Algeria are: 2209 Wisconsin Avenue, N.W., Washington D.C. 20007; (202) 965-4999. Unfortunately, it has been our experience that a parent encounters little or no difficulty obtaining travel documentation from the Interests Section for a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen child, despite the existence of a U.S. court order barring departure without the court's consent.

As you may already know, a custody decree issued by a court in the United States has no force or effect in a foreign country. When a child is abducted by a parent, the deprived parent must usually initiate legal proceedings in the foreign country to regain custody of the child or to enforce visitation rights. However, the difficulties in recovering a child from an Islamic country without the full support and consent of the father can be insurmountable.

It is the Department's understanding that in Iran, all matters concerning family law are governed by the religious courts. While you would be free to seek legal custody through the Iranian religious courts, you should be aware that Islamic courts rarely, if ever, grant custody of children to a parent who will not raise them as Muslims, does not plan to remain in Iran or has remarried. Islamic courts attach great importance to having children reside near their father so that he can visit frequently and oversee their upbringing. Even if the mother is granted custody, (The children would still need his permission to leave the country).

Currently, the only treaties which have any application to abductions of children from the United States are the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction and the extradition treaties which the United States has with individual countries. Iran is not a party to the Hague Convention, and since the U.S. and Iran do not maintain diplomatic relations, there is no bilateral treaty in effect which would cover parental child abduction.

The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Act was recently reformed by adding a Section which addressed the issue of child abduction. Under its provisions, which became effective June 1, 1991, a left-behind parent can, upon presentation of a custody decree, ask the Department of State to exclude an international child abductor from the United States. If you have further questions about this procedure or other aspects of child abduction, please contact the Office of Children's Issues at 1-888-407-4747.