People power – the ultimate weapon against child abduction?

By Kate Banerjee, head of our children’s team

According to the Office for National Statistics, more than 500 children are abducted within the UK each year, either by a stranger, by someone the child knows or even by their own parent – which as a specialist in family law and international child abduction, we are sadly all too familiar with.

The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) has had an active alert system in operation since 2005, and in the event of a child abduction, alerts have quickly been issued to the media.

Now, in an innovative move designed to harness the ever-growing power of social media, I am pleased to see that the alert system has been extended to include members of the public.  A UK wide campaign has been launched to encourage people to register online via the Child Rescue Alert website and to date more than 11,000 people have already done so.

The enhanced system, which will be launched on May 25 – International Missing Children’s Day – will issue alerts via text, email, social media and digital billboards to all registered users the minute a child is deemed as missing.  Anyone with information can then call a dedicated phone number, where a centralised team will be working quickly to collate all of the information gathered and pass it to the relevant police force.Inflatable Ball

The Child Rescue Alert can be activated by any British police force when a child is known to have been abducted or their life is believed to be in grave danger.  There are however three criteria which need to be met before an alert can be activated:

•           The child must be under 18

•           There must be ‘reasonable belief’ that they are in imminent danger of serious harm

•           There is sufficient information for the public to be able to help the police investigation.

The aim of this unique partnership between police, press and the public is ultimately to increase the chances of the child’s safe return.  The more successful the campaign is to encourage people to register, the more effective the system will become to the police.

We wholeheartedly welcome the introduction of this updated system and believe that encouraging greater public participation will prove hugely beneficial in helping to track down abducted children.

This very important service is free, simple to use and it could end up reuniting an abducted child, or even perhaps saving their life.

The adage says ‘that it takes a village to raise a child’.  If that is true, then it may well be that it takes a community to save one.

Concerned that your child is at risk from parental child abduction? Advice from our children’s department

Understanding of parental child abduction is alarmingly low and cases can take years to resolve. The situation is made more difficult if a child is taken to a country that has not signed the Hague Convention, an international agreement between certain countries which aims to ensure the return of a child who has been abducted by a parent.

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.

If you have any questions about parental child abduction please call us on 0113 246 0055, leave us a comment below or drop us an e-mail.

You can follow us on Twitter @helpwithdivorce

 

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