A Parent's Worst Nightmare: Kidnapped and Taken Abroad

An 8-year-old American boy is stuck in an Italian orphanage.

August 16, 2009, 8:44 AM

Aug. 16, 2009— -- It's been more than four months since Michael McCarty has seen his 8-year-old son, Liam. Today the young boy sits in an Italian orphanage, the product of an international custody dispute gone terribly wrong.

"Every day is a struggle," McCarty told "Good Morning America's" Chris Cuomo. "You wake up. There are good days, there are bad days. You just get through it."

Two years ago, Liam was kidnapped by his Italian-born mother after American courts gave custody of the boy to McCarty. Italian authorities soon deemed her unfit to care for her son. But despite being an American citizen, the Italian courts won't send Liam home.

"He has been traumatized by this experience," McCarty said of his son, who has been in the care of Italian social services since February. "You can only imagine what it might be like for a 5-year-old child to be torn away from everything he knows."

But McCarty is far from alone. New Jersey father David Goldman has spent five years trying to bring his son, Sean, home from Brazil. His ex-wife traveled there and never returned, remarrying before she died last year leaving Sean with his stepfather.

"I'm his only living parent," Goldman told "Good Morning America" in June. "And it's our God-given right to be together."

A report by the U.S. Department of State said last year alone more than 1,000 American children were abducted to a foreign country by a parent. That's a substantial increase from three years ago, when 642 children were taken out of the country.

State Department officials said the rise in binational marriages combined with the unstable U.S. economy may be factors in the increase as laid-off foreign-born workers return to their home country with their children, dividing more families.

State Dept.: Don't Take Law in Own Hands, but Many Parents Do

Today 17-year-old Danna Huggins is your average American teenager. But for five years, she was held in Jordan by her grandparents after her father's death while her American mother tried desperately to bring her home.

"It was very hard, not with my dad, not with my mom or my sister," Huggins said. "I was there by myself. I almost gave up."

Huggins' mother, Sharon, spent years working diplomatic channels in vain to get her daughter back to Kansas. But finally she took matters into her own hands, traveling to Jordan and stealing her daughter back.

"The State Department tells you not to take the law in your own hands, and I tried every way," Sharon Huggins said. "There was always some kind of obstacle in the way.

"I try not to think of it as kidnapping; I think of it more as rescuing her," she added.

Others frustrated with diplomatic channels, and who have enough resources, have sought help from professionals such as former CIA agent Fred Rustmann. His company CTC International Group Limited has orchestrated successful rescue operations of abducted children from Latin America to Europe to the Middle East.

"There is nothing more complicated than a child recovery operation," Rustmann said. "They are all different, but they are all horrible in the sense that they require an awful, awful lot of planning, surveillance, everything must be timed down to the minute."

But most parents such as Michael McCarty and David Goldman remain at the mercy of an international justice system that can be agonizingly inefficient.

Still, Danna Huggins said, for the children at the other end of these disputes, getting home is all that matters.

"There's always hope, never give up," Huggins said. "If you want it to happen, it'll happen."

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