The number of cases handled by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) of British children abducted by a parent to another country has risen by 10% in the past year, according to the latest FCO figures.
Every other day a British child is abducted by a parent to a country which has not signed the 1980 Hague Convention on international parental child abduction. However, in practice this figure is likely to be even higher as many cases are simply not reported.
The figures also reveal just how widespread the problem has become. Last year the FCO handled cases in 97 ‘non Hague' countries ranging from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. These are countries which have not signed up to the 1980 Hague convention on international parental child abduction and with whom negotiating the return of children to the UK can be extremely complex as there are no international agreements on returning children.
Figures from the child abduction charity, Reunite, show that between January and May 2011 there was a 21% increase in the number cases reported to them of abductions to non-Hague States compared to the same period last year.
Evidence shows that many cases occur around school holidays when a parent refuses to return a child following a visit to the parent's home country.
Sharon Cooke, Advice Line Manager for Reunite International Child Abduction Centre said: "The most obvious warning sign is a break down in a relationship but other signs may include a sudden interest in getting a passport or copy birth certificate for the child; a parent expressing a wish to holiday alone with the child; a change in circumstances such as leaving employment or redundancy, selling a house or giving up tenancy. There may also be a sudden change in contact arrangements or constant difficulty in being able to see the child."
Parents' rights charity, Families Need Fathers, argues that more can be done within the domestic family justice system and it would be wrong to think that the Hague Convention ensures that children can be returned quickly to their home country.
Ken Sanderson, CEO of Families Need Fathers, commented: "Child abduction destroys lives. Children are denied the love and support of a parent, and the parent left behind is placed in the intolerable position of not knowing where their children are, whether they are safe or when, if ever, they will see them again. Such abductions cause irreparable harm to individuals, families and their communities.
"Of course, the international community needs to work hard to encourage more countries to sign the Hague Convention and address international child abduction with the urgency it deserves. We would be doing these families a disservice, though, if we were to consider the current implementation of the Convention amongst states that have ratified the treaty as a panacea to these problems."