Eslam Chebbi (left), age 7, and Zainab Chebbi (right), age 5, taken earlier this year at a park in Tunis, Tunisia. Source: Édeanna Barbirou
Eslam Chebbi (left), age 7, and Zainab Chebbi (right), age 5, taken earlier this year at a park in Tunis, Tunisia. Source: Édeanna Barbirou (Source: Édeanna Johnson-Chebbi / Baltimore Sun)

Sen. Ben Cardin pressed the Tunisian government on Monday to resolve a years-old, international kidnapping case involving a Maryland family, arguing that returning the child would "demonstrate Tunisia's commitment to the rule of law."

Cardin, the top-ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, raised the case in a meeting on Capitol Hill with Tunisian Foreign Minister Khemaies Jhinaoui.

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Eslam Chebbi, 10, and his sister were taken by their father from Prince George's County to Tunisia in 2011, according to the FBI. Chebbi's sister was later returned to her mother, a U.S. citizen who was raised in Maryland.

But Chebbi remains in Tunisia, despite court rulings in Tunisia and the United States granting custody to his mother, Édeanna Barbirou. Barbirou's ex-husband, Faical Chebbi, is wanted by the FBI for international parental kidnapping.

"I asked Foreign Minister Jhinaoui to do everything he could to help enforce the five separate Tunisian court rulings granting Ms. Barbirou legal custody of her son," Cardin, of Maryland, said in a statement. "Enforcement of these rulings would not only reunite a mother with her child, but would also demonstrate Tunisia's commitment to the rule of law."

The case underscores the long-standing problem of international child abductions. Custody orders issued in the United States are often ignored overseas. More than 1,000 cases are reported to the State Department each year, and fewer than half of the children are returned.

More than 90 nations, including the United States, have signed a treaty to expedite the review of cross-border abduction cases. Tunisia has not signed the treaty.

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