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Under the Child Abduction Act 1984, it is a criminal offence for a “connected person” (e.g. their parent or guardian) to take a child out of the UK without the “appropriate consent”. Broadly, “appropriate consent” generally means the consent of each person with caring responsibilities for the child (e.g. their parent or special guardian). However, special rules apply with regards to children in prescribed circumstances, including children who are in the care of a local authority. In addition, if certain court orders are in force relating to the child, then “appropriate consent” is not required for trips that are less than a specified duration. Section one provides more information.

If someone believes a child to be at risk of abduction overseas, there are a number of steps that can be taken whether that risk is considered to be imminent or not. This can include the “Port Alert” system that warns officials at ports and airports that a child is at risk of abduction. Section two provides more information.

When a child has been abducted, the 1980 Hague Convention on International Child Abduction can facilitate the swift return of the child, although there are three defences against an immediate return (see section three for more information). Although the Convention is in force in the UK, this is not true of all countries; in these cases, options to seek recovery are more “limited” but it may still be possible. Section four provides more information.

Anyone whose child has been abducted, or who has abducted their child (e.g. because they are fleeing domestic violence) would be advised to seek specialist legal advice. They may also wish to seek advice from Reunite International, a charity specialising in international parental child abduction (see section 5.2 for more information).

This briefing applies to England and Wales only.

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