8:26am UK, Wednesday June 29, 2011
The numer of abductions of British children by parents who then take them abroad has risen by 10% in the past year – prompting a campaign to combat the problem.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said the latest figures show one British child is taken every two days – a total of 161 in 2010/11.
The number taken to countries that have not signed up to an international treaty designed to ensure the return of minors who are wrongfully removed from the UK was up from 146 and 105 in the previous two years.
And it is feared the numbers may be even higher because of those that go unreported.
Countries that have not signed up to the 1980 Hague Convention are not compelled to abide by a UK court order.
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.
FCO minister Jeremy Browne hopes the campaign will help people understand what they can do if they think their child may be at risk.
“The latest figures suggest the problem affects people from all walks of life and not just certain types of families or particular countries,” Mr Browne said.
“Finding a solution can be especially difficult if a child has been taken to a non-Hague country as there are no international systems in place to help you.
“This is why prevention is so important. The FCO will do whatever we can to provide advice and support but our role is limited, not least because we cannot interfere in the laws of another country.”
Evidence shows many abductions happen around school holidays when a parent refuses to return a child following a visit to the parent’s home country.
The problem has become widespread, with figures last year showing the FCO handled cases in 97 “non-Hague” countries ranging from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.
Sharon Cooke, from Reunite International Child Abduction Centre, said while sometimes there were no warning signs, there were things people could look for which might indicate their child was at risk.
“The most obvious warning sign is a breakdown in a relationship,” she said.
FCO minister Jeremy Browne is backing the scheme
“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.”
She added: “There’s often a perception – fuelled by a number of high profile cases – that it’s about fathers abducting their children.
“However, statistics show it is mainly mothers – either intentionally or unintentionally.
“The psychological impact on children can be traumatic and for the left-behind parent, the shock and loss are unbearable, particularly if they don’t know where their child is.”
:: Anyone worried their child might be at risk, or whose child has been abducted, can call the Child Abduction Section at the Foreign Office on 0207 008 0878.
People can also log on to the FCO’s website or contact Reunite on 0116 2556 234.