International child abduction – preventing abduction and recovering children (England and Wales)

This House of Commons Library briefing paper covers international child abduction, including the criminal law, steps to prevent abduction occurring, and what to do if it does happen. A link to the full report in pdf format can be found at the bottom of this page.

Under the Child Abduction Act 1984, it is a criminal offence for a “connected person”, such as a parent, to take a child out of the UK without the “appropriate consent”. In what could be termed as special cases, this may be required from a local authority for a child subject to a care order, for example. In other cases, it can be required from someone with caring responsibilities for the child (e.g. parent or special guardian) although if certain court orders are in force relating to the child then the appropriate consent is not required for trips that are less than a specified duration.

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.

When a child has been abducted, the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction can facilitate the swift return of the child, although there are three defences against an immediate return.

Although the Convention is in force in the UK, this is not true of all countries; in these cases, seeking recovery is “limited” but may still be possible.

Anyone whose child has been abducted, or who has abducted their child (e.g. fleeing domestic violence) should seek specialist legal advice and seek advice, for example from Reunite International (see section 7.2).

This note applies to England and Wales only.