A recent study has revealed that Greater Manchester has almost double the rate of child abductions and kidnappings per year. The study carried out by the charity Parents and Abducted Children Together (PACT) showed that Greater Manchester Police recorded 2.4 incidents of this crime for every 100,000 people, compared to 1.3 which is the national average.
Child abduction means removing a child from their family or carer without consent or lawful justification. Nationally, 30% of abductions are carried out by the parents of the child. This situation could arise where a child has been taken into care and a parent takes it upon his or herself to retrieve the child without consent. Child abduction also occurs in cases of divorce or family separation where the parent who does not have day to day care of the child, takes the child back into his or her care without consent or lawful justification.
Cases of parental child abduction are complicated and heartbreaking. Shockingly, they are far more common than the general public would assume. As family solicitors, it is not out of the ordinary to represent a parent who this has happened to. It is even more common to act for the parent who fears that this will happen in their family or where abduction has been threatened. Family separations are stressful and can lead to emotional volatility and irrational action.
In cases where one parent has removed a child or children from the care of another without consent, urgent legal action must be taken. In cases where the child’s welfare is a concern, the police and social services must be informed immediately. The police can act straightaway if a court order has been breached by the removal of the child. ‘Court Order’ means a Residence Order in favour of the parent from whom the child has been removed. Where there is no court order, an urgent application to the court must be made without delay. The Courts will act quickly in these circumstances and where appropriate will make an Order that the child is returned and grant a residence order, probably on an interim basis in the first instance. The police can then act upon this without delay.
Where there is a risk that the child may be taken abroad, urgent action is of the utmost importance. Many cases have been reported in the press where a child has been abducted by a family member and taken to far away countries. Once a child has left our jurisdiction, the heartbreaking truth of the matter is that in some cases it is almost impossible to even locate the child, never mind secure their return. There is some comfort in the Brussels II Regulation that applies in cases of parental child abduction to 25 of the 27 European Union member states. It is an agreement between countries that court orders regarding the parental responsibility of children will be upheld and enforced.
If there is a risk that international abduction could take place, the parent with day to day care should ensure that the child’s passport is safeguarded somewhere, for instance in a solicitor’s safe. Where a parent believes that a child may already be on the way to an airport or ferry port then the crucial step is to call the police and insist that a Port Alert (also known as an All Ports Warning). For a Port Alert to be effective, accurate descriptions and photographs of the child and the abductor must be provided.
If you are concerned about abduction then call us on 0161 969 3131 and ask to speak to one of the Family Team urgently. Our specialist team will be able to give you legal advice on your specific circumstances and take any urgent action on your behalf as required.