Zimbabwe and the United States have been treaty partners under the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (Hague Abduction Convention) since December 1, 1990.
The Department of State in Washington D.C. and U.S. Embassies and Consulates receive many requests for advice and assistance from parents whose children have been taken from the United States or prevented from returning to the United States by the left behind parent.
The Department and its Foreign Service posts will do whatever they can to assist parents who are involved in child custody disputes; however, in most cases, the amount and type of assistance is quite restricted.
Jurisdictional Limitations and Legal Assistance
If the parents can’t work out an amicable settlement of a child custody dispute, the only recourse may be a court action in the country where the child is located. The law of the country in which the child is physically present, even temporarily, is controlling.
Traditionally, the legal doctrine to which most countries have adhered is that the presence of a child within a particular country renders its courts competent to determine who should have custody of the child, regardless of any prior custody judgment issued by a court in another country. As a result, it is not unusual to find conflicting custody decisions in different jurisdictions.
Although U.S. consular officers can provide lists of attorneys in their consular districts, they cannot recommend any particular attorney, offer legal advice, represent U.S. citizens in custody or other hearing before foreign courts, or attempt to influence the outcome of those hearings. For a comprehensive list of lawyers in Zimbabwe, please refer to the Law Society of Zimbabwe Lawyers directory on http://lawsociety.org.zw/directory .
Consular officers have no legal authority to obtain physical custody of children and return them to the United States. They cannot assist a parent in acquiring physical custody of a child illegally or by force or deception, officers cannot help a parent to leave a foreign country with a child whose custody is disputed if the departure would violate a court order or the laws of the foreign country.
The Hague Convention on Child Abduction
In October 1980, The Hague Conference on Private International Law unanimously adopted The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction . The purpose of this multilateral treaty is to secure the prompt return of children wrongfully removed from or retained in any country which is party to the Convention.
In summary, the countries that are parties to the Convention have agreed that, subject to certain limited exceptions and conditions, a child who is removed from or retained in one of the signatory countries shall be promptly returned to the other member country where the child habitually resided before the abduction or wrongful retention. There is a treaty obligation to return an abducted child below the age of 16 if application is made within one year from the date of wrongful removal or retention. The requesting parent must have been actually exercising custody at the time of the abduction or retention of the child. The Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Inter-Country Adoption (Hague Adoption Convention) is an international agreement to establish safeguards to ensure that intercountry adoptions take place in the best interests of the child. The Convention entered into force for the United States in April 2008. The Hague Adoption Convention applies to adoptions between the United States and the other countries that have joined it.
Each country that is party to the Convention has designated a Central Authority to carry out specialized duties under the Convention. Parents are asked to contact their local Central Authority directly. To obtain information on how to invoke the Convention, contact:
If your child has been abducted from the United States:
Department of State, Office of Children’s Issues, SA-17
600 19th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20006
Tel.: 1-202-501-4444 if calling from outside the United States
Tel.: 888-407-4747 if calling from within the United States
If your child has been abducted from Zimbabwe:
Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare
Corner 4th and Causeway
Tel: +263 24 2703711, +263 24 2708680
Preventing Child Abduction
Passport Assistance to parents resident in Zimbabwe
If you are resident of Zimbabwe and fear that your U.S. citizen child might be taken abroad by the other parent without the mutual consent of both parents, the child’s name can be put in the U.S. passport name check system. Then, if an application is received, the requesting parent will be informed before the passport issuance is adjudicated.
When there is a court order that prohibits the removal of the child, and the order is provided to the American Citizen Services Section, the passport issuance will be denied.
International Parental Child Abduction Resources
For assistance and other sources of information, please visit the State Department International Parental Child Abduction site.
For more information on International Parental Child abduction please see link posted below.