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International Child Abduction

What is international child abduction?

In the context of this guide, unlawful abduction abroad is where one parent...

When can a child be taken abroad?

Legally, you may take the children abroad if:

In addition, if the parent taking the child abroad has a residence order made in their favour (or shared residence) or are named in a child arrangements order as a person with whom the children live, then that parent may take their child abroad for up to one month.

Why is legal parental responsibility important?

Among other rights, parental responsibility grants the holder the legal right to be consulted as to whether or not their child is taken abroad (albeit a resident parent can take the child abroad for up to a month without consent).

Mothers automatically have parental responsibility, while fathers acquire it in one of the following ways. If:

Other people and organisations can sometimes hold parental responsibility for a child and their consent must also be sought prior to a child being removed or retained abroad (or before a child can be taken on holiday by a resident parent for more than one month):

Many fathers incorrectly assume that they have parental responsibility by virtue of being their children´s biological parent. Having legal parental responsibility is crucially important in relocation cases, since without this legal status, your consent to your child being taken abroad need not be sought.

You may also want to read our guide on Parental Responsibility:

Parental Responsibility

Is it a crime for a parent to emigrate with their child?

If the parent has failed to get the consent of other holders of parental responsibility, or failing this, the ´leave´ (permission) of the court, then yes.

The Child Abduction Act 1984 made it a criminal offence for a person connected to a child to take or send a child out of the United Kingdom or to retain a child abroad without the appropriate consent.

How difficult is it to recover an abducted child?

Your prospects of recovering the children to the UK depend on a number of factors:

Which international agreements govern international child abduction?

There are three international agreements which relate to international child abduction:

  1. The 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction;
  2. The European Union´s Brussels II Revised Regulations;
  3. The UK Pakistan Protocol.

We provide the full text of the agreements, and list signatory states via the link buttons below:

1980 Hague Convention Hague Convention Signatory States Brussels II Revised Regulations Brussels II Signatory States UK Pakistan Protocol

As we mentioned in the previous section, an international agreement between the UK and a foreign country does not guarantee that children will be returned.

Be aware that the UK Pakistan Protocol was never ratified under islamic law. The Protocol was intended as an agreement between the judiciary of the UK and Pakistan on returning children to their country of ´habitual residence´ should an abduction occur. While the protocol has laudable aims, in practice, it is difficult to pursue recovery of from Pakistan, and the chances of a successful return are mixed.

What should I do if my children are abducted?

If your children are removed abroad unlawfully to a Hague Convention or European Union country, we recommend you contact three organisations immediately:

If no agreement exists between the UK and the country to which the children have been unlawfully removed, your only option is likely to be an application to the courts in the country to which the children have been taken. You should again contact Reunite, but the ICACU will be unable to assist you. Instead, telephone the Foreign Office and Commonwealth Office´s Child Abduction Unit on 0207 008 0878 (out of hours call 0207 008 1500). They will advise you as to the options available to you. You should also contact the police.

If the children may not have left the country

If you are uncertain whether the children have already left the country but you believe the risk of abduction is imminent (by which we mean possible within the next 48 hours), you should still contact the police immediately and ask that they issue an ´All Ports Bulletin´. Go to your local police station in person, and we recommend you take with you the following information:

In the past, parents we have helped have on occasion found local police unsure as to what action to take. In such circumstances, take with you the telephone number of the National Ports Office Metropolitan Police Service, and ask that your local police contact them for assistance. Their telephone number is 0207 230 4800.

Again, we recommend you contact the charity Reunite who offer practical advice about additional steps you might take.

Also refer to our guide on applying to the Family Court for a Prohibited Steps Order:

Prohibited Steps Orders

Prohibited Steps Order are civil orders made to limit what a parent may or may not do (by parent, we mean holder of legal parental responsibility). Such orders can include the court informing a parent that they may not take the children abroad at all (this can include removing the right of a parent with whom the child lives to take their children abroad for up to a month). If you have any doubt as to whether the parent against whom the order is made will comply with the order, it is advisable to ask that the courts take possession of the children´s passports when you make your application.

Where children have dual nationality, you should check with the other country´s embassy to find out whether additional passports have been issued by that country. Bear in mind that they are not obliged to give you this information. You might also ask the court direct that an ´All Ports Warning´ be issued if there is doubt as to whether the prohibited steps order will be complied with.

Note: if talking to the police, YOU DO NOT NEED A PROHIBITED STEPS ORDER FOR AN ALL PORTS WARNING TO BE ISSUED. International child abduction is a criminal matter, whereas a prohibited steps order is a civil order.

If you can afford to, contact a solicitor who will advise you further.

If you are worried, but the risks are not imminent

The charity Reunite offers an excellent guide on prevention. A copy can be accessed via the link button below:

Reunite´s Child Abduction Prevention Guide

If you are the father, and if you do not have parental responsibility, you should consider an application to the family court for a parental responsibility order and a prohibited steps order if you believe there is a risk that the mother might leave the country without your consent.

In such circumstances, if you believe that forewarning the other parent of court action may prompt them to flee the country before the application is heard by the court, you should consider making the application on an emergency basis. You may qualify for legal aid. If you do not, and cannot afford a solicitor, please refer to the guides below, which advise how to make an emergency application, and see our checklist on making an application for an emergency protection order and a parental responsibility order.

Emergency Hearings Prohibited Steps and PR Application Checklist

Where parents already have parental responsibility for the children, use the alternative checklist below which is for parents applying for a prohibited steps order alone:

Prohibited Steps Application Checklist

Again, we also recommend you contact the charity Reunite.

We also recommend you download a copy of the following leaflets published by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (the first is on International Child Abduction, while the second relates to the UK Pakistan Protocol):

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Michael Robinson © 2014

Family law information for parents whose children are resident in England and Wales

Crown Copyright material is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of HMSO and the Queen's printer for Scotland.

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