What is international Parental Child Abduction?
Child abduction is often mistaken with the image of children being removed by strangers.
In family law, child abduction refers to a situation when a parent removes a child from the country of which they are a resident of, without taking permission of those with parental responsibility or the court. This is known as ‘wrongful abduction’. Another way that a child be can be abducted is by way of wrongfully retaining a child abroad during an overseas trip, for example after a short holiday and this is known as ‘wrongful retention.
Statistics show that child abduction cases are continuously rising and have more than doubled over since 2013/2014. There were 1,268 child abduction cases recorded by the police in England and Wales in 2018/19 according to Action Against Abduction organisation.
Under the Child Abduction and Custody Act 1984 (CA 1984), it is a criminal offence if a person takes or sends a child out of the United Kingdom without the appropriate consent. Appropriate consent means the consent of the child’s mother, father (if he has parental responsibility for the child), guardian, the person named in the child arrangements order, person who has custody of the child or the leave of the court (s.3 CA 1984).
Preventing child abduction
Child abduction can be extremely stressful and usually requires an urgent action to prevent the child from travelling abroad. There are a number of ways that a person can prevent child abduction, but it is important to talk to a specialist to discuss all the legal and practical steps to take if there is a risk of child abduction.
Firstly, the practical steps that an individual can take can include ensuring that the child’s passport has been kept in a safe place, keep a record of the possible abductor; for example their photo, family details and their addresses. However, this is not always possible and there are circumstances where you may have to take legal action.
If there is an imminent risk of the child abduction in the next 48 hours, an individual or their solicitor can issue a port alert by contacting the police who work with the immigration authorities to prevent the removal of the child.
Alternatively, the individual concerned can make an application before the court to enforce the child arrangement order where the court can make an order asking the police or an officer to return the child to the person concerned, i.e. the person making the application. Other court applications include an application for a prohibited steps order to prevent the other person from removing the child from the United Kingdom or for a specific issues order where the court can ask the other person to hand over passports to the court or their solicitor.
Recovering a child from abroad
If a child has been taken out of the United Kingdom wrongfully, the person with the parental responsibility can contact the police and the International Child Abduction and Contact Unit (ICACU). The contact details and the process can be found on the government website www.gov.uk.
Whether or not the child can be recovered from another country depends on the country that they have been taken to. The United Kingdom is a member of the 1980 Hague Convention and the European Regulation. The 1980 Hague Convention is an agreement between countries which allows the child to be returned to his country of residence, i.e. where he was abducted from. The list of countries who have signed the 1980 Hague Convention can be found on http://www.hcch.net/en/states/hcch-members. The European Regulation is a similar agreement, commonly known as the Brussels II Regulation, between the member states of the European Union. Both pieces of legislation allow the courts in other countries to make an order to return the child back to his country of residence.
If a child has been abducted to a country which has not signed to the Hague Convention and is not a member of the European Union, it may be more challenging to make bring the child back but the lawyers and courts can usually work together in both countries to make arrangements for the child to be returned home.
Advice and support
International child abduction is a complicated area of law and often requires a specialist to deal with such cases. If your child has been abducted, you may be eligible for public funding, known as legal aid to meet your legal costs. Further information can be found by contacting ICACU, charitable organisations such as Reunite International or by visiting www.gov.uk information page.