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Parental child abduction has almost doubled in a decade

Foreign Office launches campaign to raise public awareness of the issue

New figures reveal that the number of parental child abduction cases dealt with by the Foreign Office has risen by 88% in just under a decade.  In the last year the Foreign Office's Child Abduction Section fielded an average of four calls per day to its specialist advice line, more than half of which were new cases.

The Foreign Office considers that parental child abduction is now a worldwide issue. In 2003/04 the Department worked on cases in 51 countries; now cases relate to 84 different countries.

It stresses that many cases go unreported as parents seek custody of their children through foreign courts.

The Foreign Office believes that public understanding of parental child abduction is alarmingly low. Research commissioned by it shows that half the UK population believes the government can intervene to order the return of a child to the UK if he or she has been abducted by a parent.  The Foreign Office has therefore launched a media campaign to highlight the issue.

According to the research a quarter (24%) of people do not think, or are unaware, that it is a crime for a parent to take their child overseas without the consent of others with parental responsibility. When asked which parent they thought was more likely to abduct a child, three quarters (74%) of people thought it was fathers.  Yet according to statistics from the Reunite International Child Abduction Centre, 70% of the charity's cases concern mothers taking the child.

The statistics show that people tend to underestimate just how much getting a child back costs, including legal fees overseas and in the UK which may continue to mount up even after  the child is returned to this country. There also seems to be a lack of awareness about who pays the costs of resolving a parental child abduction case involving a non-Hague country. Sixty-two per cent either didn't know or responded with the wrong answer, and only 38% answered correctly by saying it was the parents who would pay, not the UK Government.

Daisy Organ, head of the Foreign Offfice Child Abduction Section said:

"The increase in parental child abduction cases is a major cause for concern, particularly in the lead up to the school holidays; we know that before or during school holidays is one of the most common times for a child to be abducted. We hope that this campaign will help inform and educate the UK public and encourage parents thinking of abducting their child to think twice before they cause significant distress to themselves and their family."

Alison Shalaby, Chief Executive of Reunite, said:

"It is important to remember that parental child abduction is not faith or country specific. 71% of the UK public thought that parents most commonly abduct their children to the Middle East, India and Pakistan but it can happen to anyone, from any background. Countries where children are abducted to can range from Australia, to France, to Thailand.

"We have seen a 20% increase in calls made to our helpline in the first half of 2012 compared to 2011  and a 67% increase in the number of children who have been abducted by a parent to a non-Hague country between 2001 and 2011.

"This issue is not going away and with a 47% increase in the number of child abduction cases Reunite has worked on between 2001 and 2011, we are urging parents to think twice before they abduct their child or seek help if they think their child is at risk."