Almost two children a day are being abducted by a parent in the UK and taken abroad, the British government has said. The number of abduction and international custody cases being reported to the British foreign office has doubled over the last decade, rising to 580 in 2012/2013.
Children’s charity Reunite said it has dealt with 447 new cases involving 616 children so far this year.
The office released the figures following concerns that a spike in cases over the Christmas period last year could be repeated this holiday season. It has launched a campaign with Reunite to warn parents of the “devastating emotional impact” that abducting a child can have on the entire family.
Mark Simmonds, minister for consular affairs, said: “I was very concerned to see an increase in child abduction cases. “Parental child abduction has a devastating emotional impact on the child as well as the taking parent and the parent left behind.
“We are launching this awareness campaign in the lead-up to Christmas to try to prevent parents from doing something that would cause significant distress to themselves, their family and most importantly to the child. “We also encourage parents to look for warning signs that their partner may be considering this. “Once children are taken overseas it can be extremely difficult to secure their return to the UK. Many parents are not aware that by abducting their child, they may be committing a crime.”
The foreign office said it can take up to 10 years for an abducted child to be returned to the UK and warned of a “very real possibility” that they could never come back. It is harder for a family to fight for the return of a child from a country that has not signed the 1980 Hague Convention — an international agreement between certain countries which aims to ensure the return of a child who has been abducted by a parent.
The most common country where children are taken to which is not part of the Hague Convention is Pakistan, with 35 reported cases in 2012/13, followed by Thailand with 17 cases and India with 16. The most common country where children are abducted to which is part of the Hague Convention is America, with 32 reported cases in 20102/13, followed by Poland with 29 cases and Ireland with 28. The figures also reveal that around 70 per cent of the abducting parents are mothers. Alison Shalaby, chief executive of Reunite, warned that the cases are not “faith or country specific”.
“We see cases involving a range of countries from France and Poland to Thailand, Pakistan and Australia, ” she said. “The holidays can be a particularly stressful time for families, especially if the relationship between parents has broken down. “However, there is help available if you think that your partner may be considering abducting your children.”