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This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/international-parental-child-abduction/international-parental-child-abduction
Information for parents whose British child has been abducted overseas by the other parent or a relative, or who worry that this may, or has, occurred. This Foreign and Commonwealth Office guide sets out some options you may wish to consider, with contact information for organisations which may be able to help.
Preventing parental child abduction
There are some simple steps you can take if you are worried your child may be abducted overseas by their other parent or a family member.
Speak to a suitably qualified family lawyer
A family lawyer may be able to apply for a Child Arrangements Order to stop your child being taken out of the country. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland you may also be able to apply to have your child made a ‘ward of court’ through a Wardship Order. This means the court becomes a legal guardian of your child and can decide what is in the child’s best interests.
Contact Her Majesty’s Passport Office (HMPO)
You may be able to stop your child obtaining a British passport without your permission. You will usually need a court order to do this. You should call HMPO as soon as possible on 0300 222 0000 or use their online enquiry form
Contact the other parent’s Embassy, High Commission or Consulate
If your child’s other parent holds another nationality, they may be able to obtain a passport from their own Embassy, High Commission or Consulate for your child in this country.
You or your lawyer should write to the Embassy, High Commission or Consulate of the other parent’s nationality asking them not to issue a passport to your child. They do not have to agree to your request but they may do so voluntarily.
Contact your local police
If you think your child is likely to be taken overseas within 48 hours, the police can contact the National Ports Office and ask them to alert all UK points of departure to try to prevent the abduction. This is called a ‘Port Alert’.
In Scotland, this requires an interdict saying the child cannot leave the country.
Reunite International Child Abduction Centre is a charity providing practical advice, information and support to parents and families whose children have been, or might be, abducted or wrongfully retained overseas. They can send you a pack explaining how you can do your best to prevent your child being abducted. Their contact details are at the bottom of this page.
If your child has been abducted
Before you contact the authorities, please try to have:
- your child’s full name, age, date of birth, passport details and all nationalities
- details of the abducting parent and their relatives, in the UK and overseas
- details of the abduction, including the date of the child’s departure from the UK, where the child was taken, and the legal relationship between you and the other parent at the time of the abduction
- documentation and details of any orders relating to your child, such as a Child Arrangements Order, a Prohibited Steps Order or a Wardship Order
- any other documentation, including the child’s birth certificate, your marriage certificate and separation or divorce agreements
Report it to the local police
If your child has been taken overseas but you don’t know exactly where, the police can contact Interpol. Interpol is an international police organisation. They may be able to work with overseas police forces to help find your child.
Seek legal advice from a family lawyer
Check if your child is in a Hague Convention country
Call the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Consular Directorate on 020 7008 1500.
The FCO can check whether the country your child has been taken to has joined the 1980 Hague Convention on International Child Abduction, an agreement between various countries that can help return an abducted child from certain countries.
If your child has been taken to a country that has joined the 1980 Hague Convention you should:
- contact your UK Central Authority (a government department set up to administer the Convention)
- if you are resident abroad you should contact your relevant Central Authority
If your child has been taken to a country that the UK does not operate the 1980 Hague Convention with, or your application under the Convention was refused, you can:
- try to come to an agreement with the other parent
- start legal proceedings in the courts overseas to have your court order recognised by a foreign court or to seek a new court order under the laws of that country. A lawyer from that country can advise you on your options
- file for criminal charges against the abducting parent, either in the UK or in the other country – however this may stall efforts to get your child back, and some countries do not regard parental child abduction as a criminal act
There are specialist mediation services that can help parents to reach agreed upon, workable solutions which serve the interests of their child.
How the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) can help
The FCO can:
- provide a list of overseas lawyers who speak English, some of whom will be specialists in family law
- in certain circumstances, arrange to meet your child (this will depend on whether or not you have contact details for your child and if the other parent agrees)
- contact the relevant authorities overseas to check what progress has been made in finding your child
- offer travel information and help with finding accommodation locally
- help you contact the relevant local authorities and organisations when you are overseas
- where appropriate, contact the courts overseas to express our interest in a case and ask about progress
- in exceptional circumstances, go to court hearings overseas
- provide information about translation services
- where appropriate, issue travel documents
The FCO cannot:
- ‘rescue’ a child or get involved in any illegal attempts to bring a child back to the UK
- guarantee the return of your child, even if a UK court orders this
- find your child
- offer legal advice or interfere in the legal proceedings of another country
- pay your bills, including legal fees, translation services, travel or accommodation costs
- remove a child from a country without valid UK travel documents
If your child has dual nationality
Dual nationality means being the national of more than one country. A child may be a dual national if they were born or lived overseas or if one of their parents holds the nationality of another country. Dual nationality may limit what the FCO can do to help if your child has been taken to the country of their other nationality, as the local authorities may view your child only as a national of that country.
Central Authority for England and Wales
Telephone: 020 3681 2608
Central Authority for Scotland
Telephone: 0131 244 4827 or 0131 244 4832
Central Authority for Northern Ireland
Telephone: 02890 328 594
Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)
Telephone: 020 7008 1500
Her Majesty’s Passport Office (HMPO)
Telephone: 0300 222 0000
UK Missing Persons Unit
Contact your local UK police station
Reunite International Child Abduction Centre
Telephone: 0116 2556 234
The FCO works closely with reunite and supports them in their work. As reunite is an independent organisation, the FCO cannot be held responsible in any way for their advice and/or any decisions and outcomes that result from this.