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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, June 27, 2001

Passport change may curb parental kidnap

By Walter Wright
Advertiser Staff Writer

It was Aug. 1, 1992, when the three children slipped out of their Manoa home.

A week later, they were in Mexico, victims of the kind of international parental abduction that the State Department hopes to fight with changes in child passport laws.

But the children's mother, Sharon Martinez, said yesterday it will take bilateral pacts between countries to stem the flood of abductions to foreign lands such as the one carried out by her former husband.

Beginning Monday the U.S. Passport Agency will require approval of both parents on any application for a passport for a children under 14. The goal, said State Department spokesman Philip Reeker, "is to lessen the possibility that a U.S. passport might be used in the course of an international parental child abduction."

Sharon Martinez helped her son, Ariel, leave Mexico and come home to Hawai'i in May 1994.

Her oldest daughter, Andrea, is now of age and attending college in the United States.

But the youngest, Audrey, still a minor, is still believed to be in Mexico with her former husband.

Martinez said the passport law change wouldn't have prevented abduction of her children, and may prevent only a few cases in the future.

Because almost all travel from Hawai'i is by air, a child attempting to fly from here to another nation without a passport would probably be halted by airline officials, who do check such documents when carrying passengers between countries, Martinez said.

But "people leaving here to go to Asia or other countries will take the children to the Mainland before making a land border crossing into Mexico or Canada and looking there for false documentation," she said.

Martinez' former husband flew with the children from Honolulu to San Francisco, and then traveled by car from California into Mexico.

"The only way this would really work is some documentation for children at borders," she said.

"What would help is to have bi-lateral agreements between countries" covering the documentation and return of abducted children, she said.

The change will affect many traveling with their children legally.

"Last year there were approximately 1 million U. S. passports issued to minors under 14, so the impact of the new law will be both large and instantaneous," Nancy K. "Sam" Finn, regional director of the Honolulu Passport Agency said.

Parental consent may be demonstrated by both parents being present to sign the passport application, or one parent coming in to sign and bringing a signed statement of consent from the other parent, Finn said.

The Hawaii Missing Child Center, which has many international cases on its books, welcomed the change yesterday.

"I think it will make it a lot harder to get a child out of this country," said Renette Parker, interim coordinator of the center.

Of the 1,093 cases opened at the center since its founding in 1994, she said, "about 700 of them are custodial interference, where one parent detains, hides or conceals a child from the other parent, when the other parent has custody."