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Where in the World Are America's Missing Children?

Every year in the United States, more than 200,000 children are abducted by a member of their own family - usually a parent. In many cases in which a foreign-born parent is involved, these abducted children end up far from home, usually in the native country of the abducting parent.

Under U.S. law, such abductions are a federal crime. But because they involve international jurisdictions and pursuing them can be expensive, many of these cases remain unresolved.

A father's missing son

Up until a few years ago, Scott Carlson was living the American dream. He had a fulfilling job, he was married to a woman he loved, and he was relishing the joys of new fatherhood.

Carlson says becoming a father was a life-changing experience.

"I spent as much time as I could with Cedric and really bonded with him. The joys of fatherhood were pretty amazing."

But on September 28th, 2005, Carlson's life was turned upside down when his wife abducted their son at an airport in Switzerland as he and the 1-year-old child were about to board a plane for the United States.

The incident ended with Carlson taking his wife to the airport police station because she wouldn't let Cedric go with him.

The police told Carlson he wouldn't be able to take Cedric back to the United States without his mother's consent, without a court order, he says. So Carlson ended up returning to the United States by himself.

Back in Washington, D.C., he headed straight for the courts and filed for divorce, citing his wife's abduction of their child to win a judgment against her.

He was awarded full custody of Cedric, and "all rights under the divorce, because of her behavior," he says. He also filed proceedings in Switzerland under the Hague Convention on child abduction.

Little help from the legal system

The Hague Convention is an international treaty that was established to facilitate the prompt return of children who have been abducted across international boundaries. Only 80 countries, however, are signatories.

Having won full custody of his son in the United States, Carlson set out to use every possible legal option to bring his son back to America. But even though Carlson is an international lawyer, he was unprepared for the legal complexities he encountered.

"The district attorney and the District of Columbia refused to do anything about it. [They] basically alluded that it was just a civil matter between feuding spouses. Then I also worked with the Office of Children's Issues at the U.S. State Department. Very, very disappointing response there."

Turning to the FBI and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

After his disappointing experience, Carlson turned to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a non-profit organization that works closely with government agencies and law enforcement to assist in missing or exploited child cases.

Maureen Heads, the manager of the family abduction unit at the center, says there have been several laws enacted in the United States since 1982 to protect American children.

"There's a Missing Children's Act," she says, and also the National Child Search Assistance Act.

"These acts help parents and require law enforcement to take missing person's reports of missing children and for children to be entered in a national missing person's database."

Where is Anthony Calzada?

Maria Bright is another left-behind parent whose child was abducted by her estranged spouse. Her son, Anthony Calzada, was only 4 years old when her ex-husband, Freddie Calzada, took him to Bolivia in November 2008 for a vacation and never returned.

"For a mom, it's very hard, very painful. Every day I'm thinking, hoping probably he's going to call me and put Anthony on the phone."

Like Carlson, Bright also sought legal help and is working closely with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to get her son back.

Bright has two other children - an older son and a younger daughter.

"The older one is asking for his brother all the time. Everybody's missing Anthony," she says.

Children growing up without their parents

But beyond their immediate legal, financial and emotional concerns, what worries Maria Bright and Scott Carlson the most is the effect the kidnappings may have had - or continue to have - on their children.

Bright says she knows her son must be asking his father about her whereabouts.

"I just believe a lot in God, and I know one day he'll be back, hopefully soon," she says.

Carlson says that Cedric is now at the age where he's meeting other children, and they're talking about their dads.

"I think he's probably feeling a little lonely and different right now, and I think he's going to feel a lot more lonely and a lot more different in the near future."

Carlson says that even with all the legal and emotional setbacks he's experienced, he remains hopeful that he will one day have his son back.

"I've always been an incorrigible optimist, and if I let this incident take that away from me, then I think I would rob Cedric of one of the greatest gifts I hope to one day give him, which is that there's a lot to love in life and there's a lot to look forward to. And even when things are bad, you can do something to change it."

In the four years since his son was abducted, Carlson has been allowed to visit him in Switzerland for a total of five hours. Cedric Carlson celebrated his fifth birthday on July 3rd.

In the case of Anthony Calzada, U.S. and Bolivian authorities have confirmed Mr. Calzada and his son's entry into Bolivia, but their location is unknown. Anthony Calzada has not seen his mother since November 2008. He will be 5 years old in September.