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Pakistan Accedes the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction

Date:5 JAN 2017

On 22 December 2016, Pakistan’s cabinet acceded to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (‘1980 Hague Convention’). This means that on 1 March 2017 Pakistan will be the 96th signatory to the treaty and is expected to become the first South Asian country to do so.

The 1980 Hague Convention is a multilateral treaty developed by the Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH) that provides a quick method to return a child internationally abducted by a parent from one member country to another.

As a non-signatory to the 1980 Hague Convention, Pakistan was not bound by the international laws that seek to protect children from the harmful effects of abduction and retention across international boundaries. Very soon, and like other signatory countries, Pakistan will commit to the Convention’s protective provisions. This should ensure the speedy return of a child to their place of habitual residence.

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At present, if a child has been abducted from the UK to Pakistan the ‘left behind’ parent currently has no option but to initiate proceedings in Pakistan, where the law and procedure is very different in nature to the 1980 Hague Convention, and the process is extremely lengthy.

 The UK is home to the largest Pakistani community in Europe. The population of British Pakistanis exceeds 1.17 million. The news is therefore likely to be welcomed by many of the expatriate Pakistani community. Pakistan has become a frequent destination for parental child abduction.

In January 2003 judges from Pakistan and the UK signed the UK Pakistan Protocol on Children Matters. The Protocol is a judicial understanding which aimed to secure the return of an abducted child to the country of their habitual residence. However the Protocol has not been incorporated into Pakistani law so Pakistani Judges are only able to take into account the Protocol and are not legally bound to abide by its provisions. Therefore despite the Protocol being in place, Pakistan has been seen in the past as a safe haven where children from Europe and the rest of the world are taken by their parents or relatives without the risk of an immediate court ordered return.

In signing the Convention and becoming the first south Asian signatory and only the fourth Muslim country to be a signatory, Pakistan is taking a huge step toward international co-operation on child abduction matters and brings Pakistan into the modern forum for international children disputes. It sets an example to other nations.

Contracting states will have to accept Pakistan’s accession in order for it to enter into force between Pakistan and existing contracting states. The EU says EU member states (including currently the UK) do not have individual sovereign competence to do so and are not able to accept the accession of a state unless the EU first gives approval, and this takes time. This means it may be a couple of years before the EU accedes on behalf of member states during which time the UK has to proceed in its cases as if Pakistan was not a 1980 signatory. This is highly regrettable. Many practitioners find this situation deeply frustrating and note that the lack of an agreement could cause suffering to the international children involved in cases linked to Pakistan. The UK would however be able to enter into force with Pakistan once it leaves the EU. There were similar long time delays between Singapore joining the 1980 Convention and the EU agreeing to enter into force with the country.