On 19 January 2012 reunite reported that they had seen a 47% increase in the number of child abduction cases reported to their advice line. The Central Authority for England and Wales, the International Child Abduction and Contact Unit (ICACU) say that they see a year on year increase in the number of abduction cases that they deal with under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction 1980 (the Hague Convention). Their preliminary figures for 2011 show that the ICACU dealt with 245 incoming Hague cases and 199 outgoing Hague cases.
These are remarkable figures when you consider that they only relate to cases where parents sought a return of their children under the Hague Convention and they do not account for non Hague cases as these are dealt with by the child Abduction Section of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (the FCO)
The FCO dealt with 161 new parental child abduction cases to countries that are not signatories to the Hague Convention in the 2010/2011financial year compared to 146 cases in 2009/2010. This was an increase of 10%.
So does this mean that parental child abduction is on the rise or is it more the case that people are far more aware of the issue and of the importance of getting assistance?
Whilst of course there must be many cases that still go unreported, my view is that tremendous work has been done by organisations working in this area to raise awareness of child abduction and this has led to more cases being reported than previously.
The internet is now widely accessible to people both at home and on the move and therefore a quick search in Google with the key words consisting of child abduction probably returns results of various places that a parent could obtain assistance. My firm, iFLG, receives many out-of-hours emails and telephone calls for information and help. There are a number of internet forums now where parents can contact other parents and obtain advice of where to turn to from those who have been in that position themselves.
On 20 July 2011 reunite reported on their website that the first half of that year showed an increase of 36% of prevention cases, prevention cases are those where an abduction has not taken place but a parent fears that it could and therefore seeks assistance to safeguard against this. I again believe that this shows an increased awareness that parental child abduction is a real problem that affects real people and can be a commonplace phenomenon. In my experience as a child abduction practitioner, international families seem to be more aware now that child abduction could affect them and is a relevant consideration and so parents are ever keener to safeguard against this for example by considering the position of where the children's passports are held. The parents I speak to seem to be more clued up about the difficulties they could face from, for example, a cultural, financial and linguistic point of view if their child is abducted to another country, particularly if the country involved is not a signatory to the Hague Convention.
Whatever the reason may be for an increase in reported child abduction cases, it can only be a positive development in this area of law where the stakes are so high for children that most people are seeking early specialist assistance and taking preventive action.
Mandeep Gill is a solicitor at The International Family Law Group LLP in Covent Garden, London, (www.iflg.uk.com). Her particular specialism is in complex international children cases. Mandeep can be contacted on Mandeep.firstname.lastname@example.org.