The latest stage of relaxation of the lockdown measures, and in particular the opening of borders in the Schengen area on June 15, carry the risk of an increase in parental abductions, according to Child Focus.
The charity, which is mainly concerned with the disappearance and sexual exploitation of children, also deals with parental abductions – where one partner in an estranged couple takes the child of the relationship out of the country without the consent of the other.
The problem is particularly relevant in couples with foreign origins or mixed-nationality couples. One partner takes the child back to the parent’s homeland, and the other has to then fight through the legal system to have the child returned.
Since the signing of the Hague Convention in 1980, international law says that the country where the child is normally resident has jurisdiction until the case is resolved. In this way, the remaining parent is not forced to battle through a foreign and unfamiliar legal system.
But that only applies to the signatories of the Convention. In other countries, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, it is still the case that local courts have jurisdiction.
Also according to the Convention, the only reason a court in another country can refuse to return the child is if “there is a grave risk that his or her return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation”.
But whatever the legal avenues open to the remaining parent, the act of parental abduction is traumatic for parent and child alike.
According to Child Focus, there were 487 cases of parental abduction reported in 2019, involving 905 children. That was an increase of 50% over 2018.
This year, however has so far been marked by the closure of borders, making abduction almost impossible. Despite the lockdown, the charity received nine reports of abductions between March 13, when the lockdown started, and May 7, when the first relaxations took place.
Now Child Focus worries that with the borders opening up again, many parents will grasp the opportunity to abduct their child or children. The problem is exacerbated by the high number of marital conflicts reported during the lockdown, when problems in the marriage were aggravated by the enforced and unrelieved proximity of couples.
“The reopening of borders on June 15, coupled with an increase in the number of family disputes and divorces during corona, could trigger more child abductions,” said Child Focus spokesperson Hilde Demarré.
The charity had a simple message for parents:
“You are not allowed to go with your children to another country if you do not have the consent of the other parents,” Demarré explained.
“It is essential to come to an agreement beforehand. If not, there will follow long and painful battles between parents, and that is something we wish to avoid, in the interest of the parents and the children concerned.”