Child 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 overseas is a victim of sexual assault, neglect, physical violence or abuse, you are encouraged to report it to the nearest Canadian government office abroad of from Canada to the Emergency Watch and Response Centre.
Canadian officials abroad can also take emergency measures on behalf of Canadian children facing the threat of being, or forced into, 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 are planning to travel 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.
- Immigration authorities in a country other than Canada may ask to see a consent letter when a child enters or leaves that country with only one parent or without any parent. Ensure that the person with the legal right to travel with your children has a consent letter completed and signed by the parent(s) or legal guardian.
- If you are concerned that an unauthorized passport application may be made on your child’s behalf, you may ask Passport Canada to 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 travelling abroad and returning to Canada.
- Consult our publications Travelling with Children and International Child Abduction: 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 orders
Your Canadian child custody order may not be automatically recognized in the country to which your child could be abducted. 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 Global Affairs Canada toll-free through the Emergency Watch and Response Centre. Consult our publication International Child Abduction: A Guidebook for Left-Behind Parents for further information.
If you have child abduction or custody issues abroad, Canadian officials can:
- provide information on a country’s legal system with respect to family law and local customs
- advise a parent or guardian to seek private legal advice and provide a list of local lawyers
- 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 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
- if there are concerns that an unauthorized passport application may be made on the child’s behalf, advise the parent or guardian on how to request the child’s information be entered in Passport Canada's System Lookout List.
- liaise with local and Canadian authorities, such as law enforcement agencies, social services, non-governmental organizations and Central authorities responsible for the Hague Convention.
Canadian government officials abroad cannot:
- intervene in private legal matters
- 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
- take procedural steps towards enforcement of a Canadian custody agreement overseas
- compel another country to make a specific determination in a custody case
- provide financial assistance to pay bills such as legal, travel, accommodation or other expenses
- 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. Once a child has been located, the Travel/Reunification program is designed to assist a parent or legal guardian who cannot afford to return the abducted child to or within Canada.
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 as a result of taking time away from work to cope with the death or disappearance of their child or children as the result of a probable Criminal Code offence which occurred in Canada.
Sexual exploitation of foreign children
Some Canadians travel abroad for the purpose of sexually exploiting foreign children. This practice is known as “child sex tourism”. Such travellers take advantage of the poverty and powerlessness of children in foreign countries, expecting to exploit weaknesses in law enforcement. For more information on the sexual exploitation of foreign children, see our publication Child Sex Tourism: It’s a Crime.
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