New figures released by the Foreign Office (FCO) have revealed that parental child abduction – where a parent takes a child without the permission of those with parental responsibility – is now a growing worldwide issue.
Dramatic rise in cases
According to the FCO, it has seen the number of cases of parental child abduction rise by 88% in just under a decade.
In the last year alone 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. In 2003/04 it worked on cases in 51 countries; now it works on cases relating to 84 different countries, showing just how widespread the problem has become.
According to the FCO, it is likely these statistics are just the tip of the iceberg, as many cases go unreported as parents seek custody of their children through foreign courts.
Recent research commissioned by the FCO reveals 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 reality is that whilst help is available, parental child abduction cases can take years to resolve. This has significant impact on those concerned and there is the strong possibility that the child may never be returned.
It is also much harder to return a child from a country that has not signed the 1980 Hague Convention, an international agreement between certain countries which aims to ensure the return of a child who has been abducted by a parent.
Parental abduction is a crime
Despite parental child abduction being against the law, 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.
Legal and financial reality
As well as experiencing emotional distress, both parents may often face severe financial difficulties as they fight for custody of their child through foreign courts. 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 percent 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.
The FCO has launched a campaign to raise awareness about the problem:
“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” said Daisy Organ, head of the Foreign Office Child Abduction Section. “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.”