TV dramas, news sensations and Hollywood movie plots would have us believe that stranger abductions of children are a real threat. We teach our children the concept of ‘stranger danger’ from an early age often referring to the man in the park you don’t know with a bag of sweeties or some puppies. Whilst of course there is a risk of abduction by a stranger, few realise that in actual fact the biggest threat of child abduction comes from within the family. In fact, the most common form of child abduction is parental abduction. Figures reveal that 70% of parental abduction cases are carried out by the mother, contrary to common belief.
In the UK, cases of child abduction have increased significantly. The Freedom of Information Act has enabled figures to be collated that reveal that in 2014 there were 477 recorded cases of international abduction. Reunite International runs a charity helpline and believes that the real figure is much higher, claiming that they took 17,000 calls in 2014.
Why are parents stealing their children?
There are many reasons and motives for abducting a child. In some cases one parent may disagree with a custody arrangement imposed by a court and want to take charge of a situation. Parents may be in the aftermath of a messy separation and want to punish the other by removing their ability to see their child. The abductor may have mental issues that prevent him or her from comprehending the seriousness of removing a child from their home. Perhaps a parent is frightened that the other will harm the child and so want to remove the child from any risk. The list goes on. Whatever the reason (and whether the intentions are good or not), removing a child from the jurisdiction without the other parent’s consent is against the law.
What happens when a child is taken abroad?
Unfortunately, there is an increase in abduction to countries that are not signed up to the Hague Convention which is an international agreement for the quick return of children to their home country. Pakistan and India as well as many African states are not party to the convention and are increasingly common destinations for abduction. If a child is abducted to a country that is party to the Convention, the authorities in that country will assist in the attempts to return the child. Where a child has been abducted to a country such Pakistan or India, there is little that can be done to return the child. Locating the child in the first instance often proves impossible.
Can a child be abducted in the UK?
Where a parent takes a child away from the resident parent but does not remove them from the UK, this is not child abduction and is not a crime. This causes problems in itself as it can be extremely difficult to resolve the situation without lengthy (and often costly) court proceedings. As this is not a criminal offence, the Crown courts are not the forum and an application for the return of the child will need to be made to the Family Courts. The Family Court’s first priority is always the welfare of the child. The act of abduction is clearly not in the child’s best interest but consideration of the motive of the abduction will be taken into account. If a child has been taken away in order to protect him or her from some perceived risk of harm, this will have a significant bearing on the case and an in-depth welfare report will be carried out. The outcome of the proceedings will be a Residency Order stating which parent the child shall reside with.
What should I do if I think my child has been abducted or is at risk?
Prevention is better than cure as they say. If you believe there is a risk of a child being removed from your care, there are certain measures you should take:
- Obtain a Residency Order from the Family Courts, if you don’t already have one.
- Ensure that the child’s passport is kept in a safe and secure place. Your solicitor may be able to keep it in a safe for you.
- Inform the school, friends, child-minders, relatives etc who is authorised to pick up the child.
If you think your child has been abducted, follow these steps:
- Spread the word amongst friends and family to find out as much information as you can.
- If you have a Residency Order, call the police. They can act on the basis that the order has been breached. If there is no order, they are unlikely to be able to help you.
- If you think there is a chance that the child may be abducted abroad, your solicitor and the Police can instigate Port Alert meaning that all airports and ferry terminals will be issued with instructions not to allow the child through. This is only possible where there is a Residency Order.
- If you have no Residency Order in place, instruct your solicitor to make an emergency application to the court for the return of your child and a Residency Order in your favour. The authorities can act on this.
If you would like to discuss any of these issues with a qualified family solicitor, then please call 0161 969 3131 and make an appointment.