The UK is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, an international treaty which aims to ensure that children who are abducted and wrongfully retained overseas are returned to where they normally live for custody matters to be resolved by the local courts. More than 80 countries are party to the convention, which we believe offers the most effective way of resolving child abduction cases in the best interests of the child. In countries which are not parties to the Hague Convention, parents often face lengthy and expensive court proceedings to try to secure the return of abducted children. Many are ultimately unsuccessful.
We provide consular assistance in individual cases of child abduction involving British nationals. In 2012, we assisted in 230 cases, mainly in non-Hague Convention countries. We offered advice and information, helped parents to find local lawyers and to contact relevant foreign authorities, conducted consular visits and made political representations. In one case we were able to help reunite a father with his children after their mother had taken them to a country in South Asia, after advising him to seek custody through the local courts and supporting him while he did so.
We take a holistic approach to resolving child abduction cases, working closely with the UK NGO Reunite, lawyers’ bodies, police, other government departments and children’s services across the UK. In May, we worked with the National Policing Improvement Agency to develop and deliver a programme of seven training seminars for police offices in different forces across the UK, increasing understanding of the steps needed to prevent or resolve cases where children are forcibly removed overseas by a parent.
Over the last 10 years, the number of parental child abductions has risen steadily, and we expect a growing demand for our assistance in 2013. In an effort to reduce the number of cases, we continued to raise awareness of the problem. In December, we launched our annual media campaign, underlining the devastating and lasting impact of abduction on the children involved, highlighting the steps parents can take to prevent their children from being abducted and encouraging individuals affected by the issue to contact us for advice.
As well as offering support to those affected by parental child abduction, we continued to encourage foreign governments to sign the 1980 Hague Convention. We worked closely with Japan, Russia, India and Pakistan to increase understanding of the convention. FCO ministers also raised the issue with their counterparts in a number of South Asian countries. We supported the visit to the UK of a delegation of Japanese judges in June, and funded members of the NGO Reunite to visit Pakistan in April and South East Asia in September. These visits allowed us to increase understanding of the 1980 Hague Convention and share the UK’s experience in implementing it. In July, the UK Government ratified the 1996 Hague Convention on Parental Responsibility and Measures for the Protection of Children, a treaty which will support the measures for return available under the convention.
We will continue this work in 2013, including by funding Lord Justice Mathew Thorpe, judicial Head of International Family Justice for England and Wales, to visit Beijing, and by supporting a delegation of UK family law practitioners visiting Japan. We hope that ongoing efforts to highlight to foreign governments the benefits of the 1980 Hague Convention will encourage more countries to become parties and will lead to more effective resolution of international parental child abduction cases.