In Washington, legislation is moving through Congress that aims to stop the abduction of children by a parent. It is a growing problem in the United States

Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, says she was alarmed by the number of children snatched by parents who do not have legal custody of them.

"I was staggered to see that there are 200,000 of these family abductions a year, almost 500 of them every day, day in and day out," she said.

In a number of cases, the parent abducting the child is foreign-born and returns to his or her homeland with the child. Senator Feinstein says a U.S. State Department report last year documented 1,060 unresolved cases of international abduction. One of those cases was brought to her attention recently, the case of 15-month old Elias Flores Gonzales of California, who was abducted by his father.

"His father Jesus, abducted him after a dispute with the child's mother. The mother had custody. Jesus fled with the child across the [Mexican] border and refuses to return. He and his father are missing, and have been missing for more than one year," she said.

Ms. Feinstein says U.S law enforcement agencies are not fully equipped to deal with family abduction cases, which are often viewed as "domestic disputes".

So she has introduced legislation that would provide $500,000 a year to train law enforcement officials to identify and investigate such cases and help authorities extradite suspects who have abducted their children.

A similar bill has been introduced in the House of Representatives.