Child abduction happens when a parent or a relative or someone acting on their behalf removes, retains, or conceals a child, under the age of 16, in breach of the other parent’s custody rights whether joint or sole. In the UK, it is a criminal offence for anyone connected with a child under 16 to take or send that child out of the UK without appropriate consent of any other person who has ‘parental responsibility’ for the child.
As travel becomes more widespread and many more people work and marry abroad, the potential for international custody disputes has never been higher.
Thankfully, many countries are signatories to ‘The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction’ which is a multilateral treaty that seeks to protect children from the harmful effects of abduction and retention across international boundaries, by providing a procedure to bring about their prompt return. Usually the government’s central agencies will assist in ensuring a prompt return of children who have been removed.
This is not always the case, however, and there are some notable exceptions amongst the countries who have signed up to the convention. These include India, Japan, Egypt and Pakistan for example.
Thankfully, it appears that Pakistan is likely to finally ratify the 1980 Hague Convention in the future. Pakistan already has an abduction protocol with the UK since 2003 when judges from Pakistan and the UK signed the ‘UK Pakistan Protocol on Children Matters’. This is a judicial understanding which aims to secure the return of an abducted child to the country where they normally live, without regard to the nationality, culture or religion of the parents. In a speech concluding a day-long consultation, the Interim Law Minister said: “My ministry will examine it. We genuinely believe that this convention should be adopted.” The number of child abduction cases has risen primarily due to the mass migration of Pakistanis to foreign countries in the last 20 years.
There are 1,125,000 residents of England and Wales who are ethnically Pakistanis and there were around 40 cases of child abduction involving the UK and Pakistan during 2012. The ratification of the treaty by Pakistan will be a great comfort to the many parents who have been affected by child abduction in the past and may be in the future.
If you would like some expert legal advice then please contact one of our other specialist advisors in the family team on 01625 442100.