December 19, 2014

Why child abduction figures reinforce urgency for greater parental awareness

By Kate Banerjee, Head of our Children’s Department

I am saddened but not surprised to hear that the Foreign and Commonwealth office (FCO)  dealt with 553 international child parental abduction and child custody cases across the last 12 months – and that Reunite witnessed a 30% increase in the number of children abducted to non-Hague Convention countries.

As the FCO and Reunite call on parents considering abducting their child to think through the devastating consequences for all involved in the countdown to the Christmas holidays, as specialists in this area, we are all too aware that this is a worldwide issue – and that the public’s understanding of parental child abduction is alarmingly low.

It is extremely difficult to return a child from a country such as China, Pakistan or Somalia   that has not signed the Hague Convention. The challenges a parent faces in such circumstances can be overwhelming and desperately frightening as they struggle to get their child back.

Even when the country is a signatory, the process is extremely traumatic for the parent left behind – invariably placing the child in the middle of an ugly dispute where the stakes are high – and where secretive actions often involve a myriad of deceptions.

It is also important to remember that whilst such situations are extremely traumatic for any parent, all cases are abusive for the child or children involved as they are subjected to significant emotional harm.

While most clients I speak to believe that the government can intervene to order and help with the return of a child to England and Wales – the reality is that although support is available, parental child abduction cases can take years to resolve.

The need to step up information campaigns is further reflected in a 37% increase in the volume of calls to Reunite’s advice line this year.

If you are concerned that your child may be at risk, here are some preventative steps to consider:

  • Apply to the Court for a Prohibited Steps Order (PSO); this prevents either parent from taking their children to any specific events or any trips without the express permission of the other parent.
  • Ensure that contact is supervised and, in extreme cases, you may wish to stop contact altogether.
  • Keep passports safe and consider depositing them with a solicitor.
  • Contact the Passport Agency and ask them to block the other parent from applying for a new passport.
  • Notify the school about who is allowed to collect your child from school.

If you receive a threat of child abduction or if your child has been abducted:

  • Contact the police immediately who can issue a port alert to airports and ferry terminals. Recent photos of your child and the other parent, together with details of the airport or destination you think they may be heading, will help the police to focus their search
  • Contact Reunite, the UK’s International Child Abduction Charity which operates a 24 hour emergency helpline.
  • Seek legal advice immediately.

For more information please e-mail us or call us on 0113 246 0055. You can also follow us on Twitter @helpwithdivorce