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.

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.

Child abduction and custody issues

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.

See Children and Travel for recommendations on travel documents and precautions to take when children are travelling alone or with only one parent or guardian.

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 apparent 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.

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.

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

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