THE BLOG

Border Controls: Beefing up Passports to Prevent Parental Child Abduction

27/08/2013 16:22 BST | Updated 25/10/2013 10:12 BST

For most children, summer conjures up thoughts of carefree, school-free days in the sunshine, holidays and fun.

Sadly, some of their parents do not feel as upbeat. It's not just that they recognise the intricacies involved in balancing childcare and jobs, the effect of boisterous kids on their eardrums or the expense of keeping offspring entertained until they return to the classroom.

Many separated parents understand how difficult it can be to put their children's welfare first when relations with their former partners become strained. Indeed, anxieties which resident parents believe to be entirely natural can become even more heightened when their exes want to take children abroad on holiday.

Some fear their family becoming another statistic, adding to the growing number of children who are abducted by their parents.

Last December, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) released figures showing that the number of abductions had risen by 88 per cent in a decade. In the 12 months to September last year, the FCO recorded 512 abductions by parents and featured 84 different countries.

A framework, established by the 1980 Hague Convention, allows for children to be speedily returned to their homes while the underlying problems that prompted their being taken are resolved.

The problem is that only 89 countries are currently signatories to the Convention. It can take years to locate and return those children taken to states which haven't yet signed up to the Convention.

As a result of that complication and the general increase in cases of parental child abduction, official efforts have been stepped up to find a workable means of stopping such incidents happening in the first place.

Last year, a meeting of Hague signatory states proposed a new 'consent to travel form' added to passports in order to identify those parents legally entitled to take their children overseas and, conversely, those mothers or fathers who had restrictions preventing them from doing so.

Talks followed with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), an agency of the United Nations which regulates air travel and the global passport system, but have so far yielded no definite results.

The Hague initiative did at least give rise to further exploration of the subject by the European Commission. Detailed research led to a report to the European Parliament at the start of this month.

In part, it confirmed what practitioners in parental child abduction cases, including myself and my colleagues in Pannone's Family department, had long suspected. It described how the current system of combatting abductions is flawed and highlighted how little information has been compiled about children at risk of being taken across borders.

Adding further relevant information to passports, perhaps in a manner similar to that proposed by Hague Convention signatories, was one possible solution put forward.

Such a method would complement the passport system already in place and potentially overcome the inconsistencies both between countries and even in different regions of the same country which can have damaging consequences for parents trying to avert abductions and, of course, their children.

There would, naturally, be more administration to enhance current arrangements and that work would cost money. Who would pay - and how - has not been discussed to date.

What the Hague Convention and now European Commission have begun, though, is to develop momentum towards a resolution of an issue of pressing concern. A European directive would only affect those countries in the Community and certainly - sadly - not be worldwide. Those gaps would need to be filled in a later point.

However, it represents a start. To those parents who have experienced the agony of having a child abducted and exhausted money and time trying to have them returned to their homes, that first step is a critical one.

They will be hoping the authorities' attempts to action a scheme to stop children boarding planes or boats does take off.