Child welfare, abduction and custody issues

Canadian officials abroad work closely with local authorities to advocate for the safety, protection and well-being of Canadian children overseas. They also seek the cooperation of provincial and territorial child welfare authorities to ensure that children are protected from harm. If a Canadian child is a victim of sexual assault, neglect, physical violence or other abuse overseas, please contact us.

Canadian officials abroad can also take emergency measures on behalf of Canadian children coerced into marriage or facing the threat of forced marriage abroad, requesting protection from local social services if required. For more information, please visit our Forced Marriage page.

Prevent parental abduction

International parental child abductions and custody cases involving Canadian children in foreign countries are on the rise. If you or your partner is travelling to another country with your child and there is a possibility that a custody dispute might develop:

  • Talk to a lawyer before the child leaves home. Confirm that your custody agreement permits the child to travel internationally.
  • Remember that customs and immigration officials and transportation companies are looking for missing children and may ask questions about any children travelling with you. Ensure that children carry a consent letter from every person with the legal right to make major decisions on their behalf, if that person is not accompanying the children on the trip.
  • If you are concerned about the safety of your child or fear that an unauthorized passport application may be made on his or her behalf, you can add your child’s name to Passport Canada’s System Lookout List.
  • Be sure to carry proper identification for you and each child accompanying you to help prove your citizenship, residency and custodial rights when returning to Canada.
  • Consult our publications Travelling with Children and International Child Abductions: a Guidebook for Left-Behind Parents.
  • Visit our Children and travel page for more tips on how to travel safely with your child. 

International recognition of Canadian custody documentation

Your Canadian child custody arrangements may not be recognized in another country. In extreme cases, you or your child may not be allowed to leave the country once you have arrived. Confirm your status and that of your child with the country’s embassy or consulate in Canada before you travel.

If a custody dispute arises while your child is abroad, or if your child or a child you know is missing and may have been abducted, contact the Case Management Division of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada toll-free through the Emergency Watch and Response Centre. Consult our publication International Child Abductions: A Guidebook for Left-Behind Parents for further information.

If you are faced with a child abduction or custody problem abroad, Canadian officials can:

  • provide information on a country’s legal system, customs and regulations with respect to children and family
  • assist a parent or guardian and cooperate with local authorities in cases involving child abductions, custody and welfare
  • advise a parent or guardian to seek professional legal advice and provide a list of local lawyers with expertise in family law
  • provide lists of other local professionals, such as family counsellors and social workers, as well as information on resources and avenues to help resolve cases involving children and family
  • request assistance from competent local authorities to conduct visits to assess a child’s health, safety, living conditions, schooling and general well-being, with the consent of a parent or guardian
  • respond to inquiries regarding the purpose, composition and certification of a consent letter for children travelling abroad
  • request that Passport Canada enter a child’s information in its System Lookout List, with the consent of a parent or guardian, if there are concerns about the child’s safety or fears that an unauthorized passport application may be made on the child’s behalf.

Canadian government officials abroad cannot:

  • intervene in private legal matters relating to children and family
  • apply or violate foreign laws
  • provide legal advice or interfere in the legal process of another country
  • act as a custodian or legal guardian of a missing or abducted child
  • enforce a Canadian custody agreement overseas
  • compel another country to make a specific determination in a custody case
  • provide financial assistance to cover legal, travel, accommodation or other expenses
  • provide passport services to any parent who has not complied with a child support order or agreement or whose child appears on Passport Canada’s System Lookout List
  • act as a law enforcement agency to locate a missing Canadian child

The RCMP’s Canadian Police Centre for Missing and Exploited Children maintains a website, Canada’s Missing, that contains a database of missing and abducted children. When an abducted child has been located, the Travel/Reunification program helps parents or legal guardians who cannot afford to transport the child back home.

The Federal Income Support for Parents of Murdered or Missing Children (PMMC) is an income support grant delivered by Service Canada. PMMC is available to eligible applicants who have suffered a loss of income from taking time away from work to cope with the death or disappearance of their child or children, as a result of a probable Criminal Code offence which occurred in Canada.

Child Welfare

Among the most vulnerable of DFATD’s consular clients are Canadian children who face danger as a result of inappropriate or absent caregiving abroad. Canadian consular officers can help.

 If you suspect a child’s welfare is at risk abroad, you are encouraged to report it to the nearest Canadian government office abroad or to the Emergency Watch and Response Centre.

 In Canada, anyone who has reasonable grounds to suspect that a child is or may be in need of protection must promptly report the suspicion and the information upon which it is based to their provincial/territorial child protection agency.

Sexual exploitation of foreign children

Some Canadians travel abroad to engage in sexual relations with foreign children. This causes the children irreparable harm. For information on international efforts to combat the sexual exploitation of foreign children, see our publication Child Sex Tourism: It’s a Crime.

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