When most people hear the words "international child abduction" it conjures up images of children being stolen from their home or their parent and being whisked away at breakneck speed. Whilst some abductions do occur in this manner international child abduction is more nuanced than this. We answer here some of the most frequently asked questions about this challenging subject.

What is parental international child abduction?

When a child under the age of 16 is taken by one parent to (or retained in) another country without the consent of the other parent this may be an international parental child abduction. Abduction can occur even if there is an agreement between parents that the child will spend time with the other parent in that country on a temporary basis (such as for a holiday or to spend time with the parent). In those circumstances the retention may amount to an abduction if the child is not returned at the end of the agreed holiday or visit.

What should I do if my child has been abducted?

You should urgently seek legal advice to discuss the remedies available to you as these will depend where your child is in the world at the time of their abduction

The UK is one of the 101 signatories to the 1980 Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction the purpose of which is to secure the return of children abducted across international borders. If your child has been abducted to or retained in a country which is a signatory to this convention ( as are most countries in Europe along with the US, Australia and New Zealand ) an application can be made for return of the child under the Hague Convention. All applications are transmitted through the Central Authority which is the government department in each country responsible for processing applications.

If your child has been taken to a country which is not a signatory to the convention then you should seek advice immediately about the options available to you.

Is parental child abduction illegal?

Under section 6 of the Child Abduction Act 1984, it is a criminal offence in Scotland for a person connected with a child under 16 to take or send the child out of the United Kingdom without consent if there is a court order in place dealing with residence of the child or if there is an order prohibiting the removal of the child from the UK. If a person is found guilty of such an offence they can be imprisoned for up to two years.

Can I stop my child being taken out with the UK without my consent?

If you suspect that your child is at risk of being taken from the UK by their other parent then you should seek urgent legal advice as protective measures can be obtained.

The court has a wide range of powers to prevent the removal of children from the UK which includes granting an interdict (an order preventing the removal of your child). The court may also order passports to be surrendered, the disclosure of the child's whereabouts or particulars of other proceedings concerning the child and may give special authority to an appropriate officer of the court to recover the child. Where there is an imminent threat an interdict can be bolstered by a UK wide port stop order which alerts all airports and seaports as to the potential unlawful removal of the child from the UK.

Does the Hague Convention apply to parental abduction within the UK?

The Hague Convention does not apply when a child has been abducted to or from another part of the UK and in such cases domestic legislation applies. Orders can be obtained from court in the country within the UK the child was removed from and enforced in another part of the UK to secure return of the child.