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Consular News – Embassy 54

Child abductions on the rise

London consuls have urged UK officials to re-introduce exit checks at British borders to help stem the rise in parental child abductions.

At a briefing given to the Consular Corps by the Child Abduction Unit of the Foreign Office, consuls learned that last year the unit handled 600 cases of child abduction – a figure that has almost doubled in the past decade.

According to the FCO’s child abduction specialist, Laura Thorne, many cases involved dual nationals. She added that 70 per cent of abductions were carried out by mothers, typically after a relationship breakdown, and that abductions tended to peak during the holidays.

Outlining preventative measures, Thorne advised consuls to tell parents who suspect an abduction is imminent to contact the local police or to have a court order drawn up.

Consuls said the UK should tighten up preventative measures such as requiring both parents to sign a child’s passport application, exit checks at the border and to introduce a ban on single parents leaving the country unless they are able to produce a legal document with the signed consent of the other parent.

Consuls also noted that some police authorities in the UK had not responded satisfactorily to reports of child abduction.

Ross Allen, head of FCO Consular Assistance, welcomed the consuls’ recommendations and pledged to pass them on to the relevant authorities. He also asked consuls to take extra measures to reduce the risk of abduction, such as checks on visa applications or temporary passport applications.

He also appealed to consuls to lobby for more countries to sign up to the 1980 Hague Convention (HCCH), the multilateral treaty which seeks to protect children from the harmful effects of abduction across borders by providing a procedure to bring about their return.

Currently 76 states have signed the convention. The most common HCCH country to which children from the UK were abducted last year was the USA (32 cases), followed by Poland (29) and Ireland (28). For non-Hague nations Pakistan was the destination for most wrongful removals (35), followed by Thailand (17) and India (16).

It can take years for a child abducted to a non-Hague country to be repatriated, warned Thorne, because the case has to be pursued through the local courts, causing emotional distress and high legal costs.

In these cases, the FCO works with and part-funds Reunite (www.reunite.org), a charity specialising in international child abduction. The British consulate also assists with contacts with the local police, social and legal services.

The FCO’s Laura Thorne and Ross Allen brief consuls

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