There are 3 broad categories of child abduction:
Abduction – in England and Wales and Northern Ireland this may be a criminal offence where a child (under 16 years old) is taken out of the UK without either consent of another person who has parental responsibility, or permission from the courts. In Scotland, abduction may only be considered a criminal offence where the courts have issued an order concerning custody of the child or their removal from the UK, but a parent may still have rights under civil law
Wrongful retention – where a child has been retained in a foreign country following an overseas trip
Threat of abduction – where there is a risk that a child will be taken overseas
This is an agreement between certain countries which aims to ensure the return of an abducted child to the country where he or she normally lives, so that issues of residence (custody) and contact (access) can be decided by the courts of that country. All cases that come under the Hague Convention are dealt with by the Central Authorities in the UK.
To find out which countries are part of this Convention, visit the Hague Conference Website.
If your child has been taken to one of these countries you should contact the appropriate Central Authority for assistance (please see ‘useful links’ to the right). The FCO only becomes involved in Hague cases if a UK Central Authority asks for our help.
Non Hague Convention Countries
If your child has been taken to a country that has not signed the Hague Convention you may need to apply for custody and permission to bring your child back to the UK through the courts of that country. You should also contact the FCO’s Child Abduction Section.
What our Child Abduction Section can do to help:
Offer advice if you
feel your child is at risk of being abducted.
Provide you with a list of English-speaking lawyers and interpreters in the country your child has been taken to.
Share our general experience of dealing with abduction cases to a particular country, and where available, provide practical information on custody issues and travel. You can read our country-specific information here.
If you don’t know where your child is we can try to verify with immigration services overseas whether your child has arrived in a particular country. We can also contact the relevant authorities overseas to check what progress has been made in locating your child. You will need to have reported your case to the police overseas for us to do this.
Once your child has been located, arrange for a consular visit to your child if you have welfare concerns and the other parent agrees.
Help you to contact the relevant authorities and organisations which can help you overseas.
Where appropriate, express to the courts overseas our interest in your case and ask about progress.
Put you in touch with non-governmental organisations such as the Reunite Child Abduction Centre (which the FCO part-funds) and Children and Families Across Borders.
What we cannot do:
‘Rescue’ your child or become involved in any illegal attempts to bring your child back to the UK
Locate your child if you do not know where they are
Offer legal advice or interfere in the legal system of another country
Pay for your legal, travel and accommodation costs
If your child has been taken to a country where they hold dual nationality, the local authorities may view the child as a resident of that country. This may limit what we can do but still contact the Child Abduction Section for advice.
Cross border mediation
Since June 2009 the FCO has been participating in a working group set up by the Hague Conference on cross-border mediation. The group aims to promote the development of mediation as a way of helping resolve international parental child abduction cases and other family disputes concerning custody or contact with children overseas.
In the FCO’s experience, cases involving the abduction of a child to countries that have not ratified the 1980 Hague Convention can be extremely difficult to resolve. Many parents cannot afford to appoint a lawyer overseas and cross-border mediation is an option parents may wish to consider
as a means to resolving disputes. Mediation has also assisted parents whose children have been abducted to countries that have ratified the Hague Convention or from countries overseas into the UK. In these cases the mediation process should be seen as supplementary to any court proceedings under the 1980 Hague Convention and should not prejudice or delay such proceedings. You can find more information here on cross-border mediation.
Parental abductions to the UK
Many children are abducted from countries overseas to the UK. Parents trying to trace children in the UK can contact the United Kingdom Missing Persons Bureau for advice on tel: 0845 000 5481 or by e-mail at: email@example.com
Parents can also employ a lawyer in the UK to help locate children e.g. by obtaining a ‘seek and find’ order. You can find more information here on abductions to the UK.
The UK-Pakistan Judicial Protocol
If your child has been taken to Pakistan you may wish to use the Protocol to try to have them returned to the UK. The Protocol can be used when parents are seeking permission to take a child temporarily to Pakistan for a holiday. You can read more here on the UK – Pakistan Judicial Protocol.
We work closely with Reunite, the leading UK charity specialising in international parental child abduction. They provide advice and support to anyone affected by child abduction or those who fear an abduction. They can send information on preventing child abduction and can send you a list of lawyers in the UK who specialise in child abduction cases. They also provide an international mediation service and have information on Sharia Law in a number of Muslim countries.
Country-specific information on parental child abduction
Abductions to the UK
Information on legal issues relating to parental child abduction to the UK
Information on cross-border mediation in cases of parental child abduction
Further information on the UK-Pakistan judicial protocol on Child Abduction