Last year, in the 2018 Annual Report on International Child Abduction, published by US State Department’s Office of Children’s Issues, Argentina was listed as a country demonstrating a pattern of noncompliance with international protocol.
According to the study, Argentina failed to adhere to the International Parental Child Abduction (IPCA) Convention, a treaty that falls under The Hague Convention, a private international law instrument. Both the United States and Argentina are signatories to it, as well as 100 other countries worldwide.
The topic was on the agenda for Suzanne Lawrence, the Special Advisor for Children’s Issues for the US State Department, as she visited Argentina this week. The US official met with national authorities in Buenos Aires to discuss issues relating to international child abduction, as well as to intercountry adoption.
According to the 2018 report, published last April by Lawrence’s department, there were five child abduction cases in total, involving six children, between the two nations in 2017. Three were continuations of incidents from the year prior. By the end of the year, two cases were resolved and none were closed.
In an interview with the Times, however, Lawrence observed that timeframes are often difficult to adhere to in such situations.
“We have a very good relationship with the Argentine Central Authority,” said Lawrence, echoing a sentiment that is mirrored in the report.
The problem, it seems, lies with the relatively slow speed of the Argentine Judiciary in responding to cases of child abduction. The IPCA convention lays down what Lawrence describes as an “aspirational” timeframe of six weeks to resolve cases like these, though often that never comes to pass.
“The cases are never going to meet a six-week goal, we have found that they’re lengthy. It takes a very long time to move along a case and many of the reasons behind that are the judicial delays,” the US official said.
Since taking on the role as special adviser in September, 2017 under the Donald Trump administration, Lawrence has made it her main priority to encourage more countries to join the convention, she said.
“We have seen more countries join the convention in the time that I’ve been in the position and more countries are expressing interest,” she affirmed. Lawrence said her department also focuses on ensuring that once countries sign up to the convention, they properly adhere to and implement its guidelines.
“We have a programme at the Department of State that’s called the International Visitor Leadership Program,” notes Lawrence. “We, a couple of years ago, created programmes specifically on international parental child abduction, so that we could bring [to the US] family court judges, lawyers, people within the central authority, people who work in the field, who may just need some exposure to the system that we have in the United States and we have found that to be incredibly useful.”
Have Argentines taken advantage of that opportunity? Lawrence revealed that participants have come back to Argentina and have worked on draft legislation that would help shorten the judicial process.
While the figures involving Argentina are small, the US official said there were larger problems closer to home. Lawrence highlighted improvements with regards to Mexico, saying officials were now able to work quickly with the US to respond to child abduction cases. According to the 2018 report, there were 169 child abduction cases in 2017 alone, involving 241 children. In that year, 95 were resolved, 12 were closed, and 62 remained open.
At present, there is no data that indicates how many cases were opened in the last calendar year, a period in which the US faced criticism for separating migrant children who had crossed the Mexican border from their parents.
Similar to the convention on International Parental Child Abduction, there is also a Hague Convention on intercountry adoption, another realm relating to children’s issues that Lawrence’s team covers. However, between October 1, 2017 and September 30, 2018, no intercountry adoptions at all took place between Argentina and the US.
Lawrence attributes this lack of intercountry adoptions to a wider global decrease in intercountry adoptions. According to US data, the number of intercountry adoptions involving US citizens dropped by a figure of 655 between 2017 and 2018.
“Globally we see that the numbers of children who are adopted through intercountry adoption have decreased,” said Lawrence, who also met with Supreme Court Justice Elena Highton de Nolasco during her time in the capital. “In many countries, the emphasis has been on domestic adoption.”
Lawrence attributes this trend to changing stigmas associated with single parenthood, as well as with scientific advances that allow people to create families in other ways.