Under the Child Abduction Act 1984 it is a criminal offence for anyone connected with a child under 16 to take the child out of the UK without the consent of the parents, or of those with parental responsibility. The child abduction may take the form of one of the parents simply removing the child from the UK without the other parent`s knowledge, or refusing to return the child to the UK following a holiday or family visit.
Migration to and from the UK is now extremely common and this has naturally led to an upsurge in mixed-nationality relationships. The 2011 census revealed that almost 10% of the population, some 2.3 million people, were living within an ethnically-mixed relationship, with this figure increasing by a third in the previous decade. A report by the Office for National Statistics in 2014 claimed that 833,000 school-age children in England and Wales lived in a mixed-ethnicity household, and that those in their 20s and 30s were more than twice as likely to be living with someone from a different ethnic group than those over 65. So it is extremely likely that there will be an increase in the number of child abduction cases entering the UK legal system.
Parental child abduction can happen for a wide variety of reasons, usually following the breakdown of the parental relationship. A parent may simply wish to return to the land of their birth, may wish to see their child brought up according different moral or ethnic codes, or may want to relocate for employment reasons. Whatever the issues, in most cases it is against the law to remove a child from this country without the consent of the remaining parent.
In a growing number of cases judges have been using contempt of court laws to force parents to return their children to this country, with failure to do so resulting in a possible jail sentence. A recent example is the case of Mohammed el-Zubaidy, a Libyan with British citizenship who was jailed for 12 months in August for repeatedly defying court orders to disclose the whereabouts of his children and return them to the UK.
If you have been affected by child abduction issues please contact Senior Associate Solicitor Heidi Fleming for family law advice.
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