April 4, 2016

How to reduce the risk of your children being abducted

By Kate Banerjee, Partner and head of the Children Department

The case of a Hampshire woman – who has recently made an emotional appeal on TV for the return of her two children who were abducted by her former partner – has put the issue of international child custody back into the headlines.

It is four years since Badar Mohammed Al-Barwani abducted Aisha, ten, and Faris, seven and put them in the care of his parents in Oman.

Despite being imprisoned for contempt of court after defying a High Court order to return the youngsters, he has refused to do so. The case is further exacerbated by the fact that Oman is not a signatory to the Hague Convention, which helps to facilitate the return of internationally abducted children.

The Foreign and Commonwealth office (FCO) dealt with 553 international child parental abduction and child custody cases in 2014. Reunite, the UK’s International Child Abduction Charity, likewise witnessed a 30% rise in the number of children abducted to non-Hague Convention countries in the same period.

The substantial increase prompted the FCO and Reunite to call on parents considering abducting their child to think through the devastating consequences for all involved. 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 that has not signed the Hague Convention – such as Oman, China, Pakistan or Somalia. The challenges a parent faces in such circumstances can be overwhelming and desperately frightening as they struggle to get their child back.

And 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.

I have considerable experience in international child abduction cases and am a member of the International Child Abduction and Custody Unit. 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.

So, 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.

Take the steps below 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, which operates a 24 hour emergency helpline.
  • Seek legal advice immediately.

If you have any comments, queries or concerns on child abduction or wider divorce related matters, leave a comment below, call the Jones Myers team on 0113 246 0055 or tweet us on @helpwithdivorce.