Policy, Inequality

I bet you didn’t know anything about this kind of kidnapping taking place today

It’s one of those things that you hear about - but don't think could actually happen until it happens to you.

In this day and age, we’ve managed to break down so many of the intercultural/interracial barriers that were once so taboo. Today, there are more relationships between people of different racial backgrounds and ethnicities – and while this is all wonderful and good, there is a downside. Should the relationship fall apart and a child is involved, things can get pretty tricky.

International Parental Child Abduction is where one parent takes the child out of the country without the other parent’s consent.

There are lots of aspects to international parental child abduction and it isn’t always a straight-up abduction situation. There are cases of retention, where a parent takes the children on “holiday” and just doesn’t return. Often, people think that it isn’t really a crime because the child is with their parent. However, the child has a right under the article 9(3) of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 to “maintain personal relations and direct contact with both parents on a regular basis, except if it is contrary to the child’s best interests”.

In the UK this practice is illegal under the Child Abduction Act of 1984. The Act requires the consent of the other parent, guardian or anyone else with parental responsibility in order to remove the child from the country.

The most relevant piece of international law that relates to this issue is found in the Hague Convention 1980. In brief, this piece of legislature addresses the wrongful removal or retention of a child from the Country of his/her habitual residence. There are defenses to this within article 15 of the convention, whereby a removal or retention would then not be classed as illegal. These range from the petitioner not exercising his/her custody rights at the time, acquiescing, over a year passing since the removal, the child is mature enough to have a say, a risk to the child on a return or a risk to their basic human rights.

This convention has a ton of signatories, ranging from the UK other European countries to the USA, Japan, and Brazil. A full list of signatories can be found here. There’s a lot that could be discussed about this piece of law; how certain aspects are interpreted and how it can be internationally enforced.

The point is that if the abduction occurs to a Hague country, from a Hague country, you have a better chance of getting a return. There are other pieces of law that can also be used but the Hague is the most effective. It also depends on which country the child is taken to, some have better track records with enforcement than others.

There are so many misconceptions about this kind of abduction. For example, there is this idea that it only happens in Middle Eastern countries – you’ll hear the horror stories about a child being taken back to Saudi, never to be seen again. And that does happen, but some of the western countries have surprising numbers of cases too. It’s not just the mothers that abduct. The fathers, as well as other relatives, are also known to abduct.

It’s really sad that this is happening at all. Most of all it’s just upsetting to see a child used as a pawn to spite the other party when a relationship breaks down, I know it’s common in divorces, etc. But denying any sort of contact by leaving the country is harsh, and this kind of situation can also lead to parental alienation. This occurs where the child is brainwashed by one parent to have a hatred towards the other, this is easier done when they are a country away and having no contact.

There are always two sides to a story and of course, there will be cases where a parent is fleeing domestic violence or another toxic and dangerous situation. Every case is different, and sometimes these issues can be easily worked out. But it is very important to be aware of this phenomenon. It’s one of those things that you hear about but doesn’t think could actually happen, until it happens to you. No-one wants to consider that the person they chose to have a child with would turn on them so badly, but separations can get nasty and people do change.

If you think an abduction is going to happen, there are preventative measures that can be taken, similarly, if an abduction has happened or is currently happening, there are resources that can help in these circumstances.