Aircraft in flight

The abduction and removal of children to foreign countries can lead to distress and heartache at home. Katharine Marshall discusses some of the main issues.

Child abduction happens when someone takes a child under 16 out of the UK without the consent of people with ‘parental responsibility’, or special permission from the family court. Children are also, of course, abducted from other jurisdictions and brought to the UK.

What the law says about taking children abroad

However, a parent who has a child arrangement ‘live with’ order, formerly known as a residence order, can take a child abroad without asking for permission for up to 28 days.

The situation is similar for a special guardianship order, although this allows a child to be removed from UK jurisdiction for a maximum of three months.

If you suspect that your child may be removed from the UK without your consent, you should take urgent professional advice on making an emergency application for a prohibited steps order.

Where you are seeking to take your child on holiday and the other parent is withholding consent, you are able to seek permission directly from the court.

Practical issues to consider

It is not uncommon for consent to take a child on a foreign holiday to be verbal, but if an abduction takes place it’s helpful to have a record of the agreement. This will help to establish whether the child has been wrongfully removed, or unlawfully retained outside the UK – in other words, not returned from a holiday for which permission was given.

It is advisable to agree holiday dates via e-mail as well as asking for details of outbound and return flights. This information can confirm when and where a child entered a foreign country and help agencies abroad to locate the child in the event that they are not returned.

You should also retain a copy of the child’s passport, and consider whether the country the child is travelling to is a signatory to an international convention for the return of children.

Countries including the UK have signed an agreement called the Hague Convention that seeks to return abducted children to their home country. To check whether a country is covered by the convention, visit

What to do in cases of abduction involving a foreign country

If you fear your child has been abducted and taken overseas, you should report the incident to the Police.

If an abducted child is thought to be in danger of serious harm or death, the Police can use The Child Rescue Alert Scheme – effectively an early warning system involving local radio and television stations. In addition, the police can arrest anyone suspected of abducting a child, and circulate the child’s name to all UK points of departure through the Police National Computer.

Next, you should contact a UK solicitor, an organisation such as Reunite, the Foreign Office, or the International Child Abduction and Contact Unit at the Official Solicitors Department.

Whichever option you chose, you will be able to explain your situation to sympathetic professionals who can help and advise you.

For further advice on child abduction, call Katharine Marshall on 0161 761 4611.