British families whose children are abducted abroad by one parent or other family members are being warned they may never get their child back, with the number of children going missing having almost doubled
New figures reveal that the number of parental child abduction cases dealt with by the Foreign Office has risen by 88% in just under a decade.
Adam Jones and his mother Rebecca, who says he has been held in Qatar since 2009
Many of the cases have been high-profile stories, including British 13-year-old Adam Jones, apparently held in Qatar by his late father's family. His mother Rebecca Jones said she had been trying to bring him home since 2009.
Another mother, Leila Sabra has organised protests in Westminster to raise awareness of the case of her five-year-old daughter A'ishah, who is in Egypt after her dad allegedly failed to return her after a routine custody visit in 2009.
An investigation into the trend by The Huffington Post UK, found that in the UK it is estimated more than 140,000 children go missing every year, one every three minutes.
The statistic was calculated by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre, which includes teenage runaways, parental abductions and kidnappings.
In the new stats released on Wednesday, last year alone the Foreign Office’s Child Abduction Section fielded an average of four calls per day to its specialist advice line, more than half of which were new cases.
Cases were worked on in 84 different countries, showing just how widespread the problem has become.
The Foreign Office also warned that they often have little power to intervene in foreign cases.
Estelle Clayton, who went missing for six weeks after she was taken abroad by her father, back home with her mother, Aneta, is one of thousands who go missing each year
In the report, it states: "The research we commissioned shows that half the UK population believes the government can intervene to order the return of a child to the UK if he or she has been abducted by a parent.
"The reality is that whilst help is available, parental child abduction cases can take years to resolve. This has significant impact on those concerned and there is the strong possibility that the child may never be returned.
"It is also much harder to return a child from a country that has not signed the 1980 Hague Convention, an international agreement between certain countries which aims to ensure the return of a child who has been abducted by a parent."
The research also shows that 24% of those polled said they did not think it was a crime for a parent to take their child overseas, and three-quarters believed it was fathers who were more likely to abduct a child. In reality, 70% of the time, it is mothers who take their children.
The UK government also warned that the parents, not the state, would bear the costs of fighting the case in foreign courts.
Daisy Organ, head of the Foreign Office Child Abduction Section said: “The increase in parental child abduction cases is a major cause for concern, particularly in the lead up to the school holidays; we know that before or during school holidays is one of the most common times for a child to be abducted.”
Alison Shalaby, Chief Executive of child abduction charity Reunite, said in response to the report: “It is important to remember that parental child abduction is not faith or country specific. 71% of the UK public thought that parents most commonly abduct their children to the Middle East, India and Pakistan but it can happen to anyone, from any background.
"Countries where children are abducted to can range from Australia, to France, to Thailand."
Shalaby, whose own daughter was abducted by her father and taken to Egypt, said: “We have seen a 20% increase in calls made to our helpline in the first half of 2012 compared to 2011 and a 67% increase in the number of children who have been abducted by a parent to a non-Hague country between 2001 and 2011.
“This issue is not going away and with a 47% increase in the number of child abduction cases Reunite has worked on between 2001 and 2011, we are urging parents to think twice before they abduct their child or seek help if they think their child is at risk.”
She told The Huffington Post UK in August: "There is a misconception that the government can do something about it. But they have no power to dictate to a foreign country, to tell them to adopt the Hague Convention."
Tanya Roberts, partner in family law at Charles Russell LLP, told The Huffington Post UK the statistics were not “much of a surprise. Firstly, that abductions are on the increase - this may well be due to the level of international marriages in more recent years.
"Secondly, that some people are unaware that what they are doing constitutes an abduction, like mothers taking their children back to the mother's "home"; and thirdly that mothers are more likely to be the abducting parent than fathers.
"The press on the whole concentrates on the extreme abduction cases, often by fathers but they are much rarer than the perception.
"The statistics support that, with 70% of abductions by mothers, again this is often the "going home" scenario."