Child Abduction: Why British Law Means Parents May Be Powerless To Get Their Children Back


August 29, 2012

Source: The Huffington Post

When Alison Shalaby’s seven-year-old daughter was taken to Egypt by her ex-husband, she found it hard to believe that after just one week in the country, her child was now legally considered “an Egyptian”.

She told The Huffington Post UK, “Whoever I contacted in the country said she was not British. That I was asking them to extradite one of their own. She’s seven-and-a-half, she’s been in the country a week, but they said she was Egyptian.”

Shalaby’s situation is all too common. Last week, British 13-year-old Adam Jones was in the headlines, apparently held in Qatar by his late father’s family.

adam jones

Adam Jones and his mother Rebecca, who says he has been held in Qatar since 2009 

His mother Rebecca Jones said she had been trying to bring him home since 2009 and has been lobbying the Foreign Office to reunite her with her son.

Adam wrote a letter to David Cameron, saying: “I think nobody cares about me. I beg you not to forget about me. Please let me go home to my family.”

He was apparently taken in 2009 when Ms Jones signed some documents in Arabic she was presented with by her late husband’s family. A Qatar court has denied her custody twice.

And this week, Leila Sabra organised a protest in Westminster to raise awareness of the case of her five year-old daughter A’ishah, who is in Egypt after her dad allegedly failed to return her after a routine custody visit in 2009.

She alleges that she won custody through the Egyptian courts, and had her daughter returned, but that she then went missing again on a second visit to her Dad in Egypt.

In the UK it is estimated more than 140,000 children go missing every year, one every three minutes, a statistic calculated by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre, which includes teenage runaways, parental abductions and kidnappings.

child abduction

Estelle Clayton, who went missing for six weeks after she was taken abroad by her father, back home with her mother, Aneta, is one of thousands who go missing each year 

Shalaby, the director of charity REUNITE, managed to get her daughter back when her former partner eventually moved back to Britain, but left her daughter in Egypt. She then started court proceedings.

She told The Huffington Post UK: “He didn’t really want to be in Egypt himself. I had to get a court order to get him to bring my daughter home, and he went to prison because he refused, he was in contempt of court.

“Often when a parent runs abroad, it’s a knee-jerk reaction, about going back ‘home’, and thinking it will be completely fine to just bring your child along, without thinking of their needs or the terrible upset it can cause to the child’s other parent.

“You think you can’t live without your child close to you, but that’s exactly what you are doing to the child’s other parent.”

The legal system in the UK means that if a child goes to a country, like Qatar, which is not signed up to the Hague Convention, or does not have a bi-lateral agreement with the UK regarding children, then it can be extremely difficult and costly to get a child back, with the British government powerless to help apart from through political lobbying.

Shalaby said: “There is a misconception that the government can do something about it. But they have no power to dictate to a foreign country, to tell them to adopt the Hague Convention.

“The change has to come from grassroots campaigners in that country.”

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