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.
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.