The number of parental child abduction and custody cases has more than doubled over the last decade *, with almost two children being abducted abroad each day, according to new figures released today by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) and charity, Reunite.
The FCO has launched a hard-hitting film, Caught in the middle, to highlight the issues and encourage parents to think of the consequences before doing something that could do lasting damage to the children and families involved.
Caught in the middle
In 2003/04 the FCO was involved in 272 new parental child abduction and international custody cases. In 2012/13 that figure rose to 580, the second highest figure ever recorded.
This year alone**, Reunite – a charity that provides advice and support to parents involved in parental child abduction cases – has dealt with 447 new cases involving 616 children. It reported a particular spike in cases after Christmas 2012 and again in September this year following the summer holidays.
Mark Simmonds, Minister for Consular Affairs, said:
I was very concerned to see an increase in child abduction cases. Parental child abduction has a devastating emotional impact on the child as well as the taking parent and the parent left behind. It can do lasting damage to a child’s relationship with both parents and their happiness. These are often distressing cases for everyone involved and there are no easy fixes, but our staff around the world work hard to assist those parents left behind.
We are launching this awareness campaign in the lead up to Christmas to try to prevent parents from doing something that would cause significant distress to themselves, their family and most importantly to the child. We also encourage parents to look for warning signs that their partner may be considering this. Once children are taken overseas it can be extremely difficult to secure their return to the UK. Many parents are not aware that by abducting their child, they may be committing a crime.
Alison Shalaby, Chief Executive of Reunite, said:
Parental child abduction is not faith or country specific – we see cases involving a range of countries from France and Poland to Thailand, Pakistan and Australia. The holidays can be a particularly stressful time for families, especially if the relationship between parents has broken down. However, there is help available if you think that your partner may be considering abducting your children. Last year we helped to prevent 412 cases involving 586 children which demonstrates something can be done to prevent it from happening to you.
Parental child abduction cases can take years to resolve, with significant impact on the child or children involved. There is a very real possibility that the child may never be returned. Even when cases are resolved it can take up to 10 years, with a devastating impact on the child, parents and families involved.
There is no typical ‘abducting parent’ – although abductions are more likely to take place where families have links to more than one country and, contrary to popular opinion, it is more likely to be the mother who abducts than the father (approximately 70% of abducting parents are mothers).
It is also much harder to return a child from a country that has not signed the 1980 Hague Convention, an international agreement between certain countries which aims to ensure the return of a child who has been abducted by a parent. The table below illustrates the most common Hague and non-Hague countries that children are abducted to.
As well as emotional distress, both parents may often face severe financial difficulties as they fight for custody of their child through foreign courts. Legal costs overseas and in the UK may continue to mount up for parents, who must bear responsibility for the cost of any legal action taken, even after the child is returned to this country.
The FCO is working with Mumsnet and the charity, Families Need Fathers (FNF) to answer questions parents might have about this issue via their web pages Families Need Fathers and Mumsnet.
|Top 10 Hague countries children have been abducted to***
||Number of cases 2012/13
||Top 10 countries children have been abducted to where Hague returns aren’t available
||Number of cases 2012/13
||United Arab Emirates
Where to go for help
There are lots of free sources of advice and support to help parents through difficult periods, including if you think your child is at risk of being abducted or has already been taken. You can call the Reunite helpline on 01162 556 234. You can also call social services and speak to a specialist solicitor. Counselling and support is available through Relate and the Samaritans.
Alternatively, you can contact the Foreign & Commonwealth Office on 020 7008 1500, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, visit our Child Abduction page for more information or read our advice leaflet.
You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org
For further information or to arrange media interviews please contact: 0207 478 7840
The 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is a multi-lateral international treaty, the aim of which is the return of a child who has been wrongfully removed or wrongfully retained away from the country where he or she normally lives, so that issues of residence (which parent a child should live with), relocation (which country a child should live in) and contact (access) can be decided by the courts of that country. All cases that come under the Hague Convention are dealt with by one of the three Central Authorities in the UK (the International Child Abduction and Contact Unit covers England and Wales and there are two separate bodies for Scotland and Northern Ireland). To find out which countries are part of this Convention, visit the HccH website
Visit our Child Abduction page for further information on parental child abduction, or the Reunite website
*Taken from 2003-2013 data held by the FCO. The FCO dealt with 580 new child abduction and custody cases in 2012/13, a 113% increase on the 272 new child abduction and custody cases it dealt with in 2003/04
**Reunite figures, January 2013 – October 2013
***Based on figures provided by the 1980 Hague Central Authority for England and Wales, Scottish 1980 Hague Central Authority and the 1980 Hague Central Authority in Northern Ireland