Preventing child abduction

Child abduction can fall under both criminal law and civil law.

Criminal law

Section 1 of the Child Abduction Act 1984 makes it an offence for a parent to take his own child under the age of 16 out of the UK without the required consent. The required consent involves obtaining the consent of every person that has parental responsibility over the child in question, or the permission granted by the court that allows the removal of the child from the UK.

The police have the power to arrest anyone they reasonably suspect of attempting to remove a child from the UK without the consent from the required persons set out under s 1.

The all ports warning system

This all ports warning system operates where there is a real possibility and imminent danger that the child in question may be removed from the UK without consent. It involves the police circulating details of the child and the suspected abductor to all ports and airports and all other exit points of the country. The child’s details will be held on a ‘stop list’ for four weeks.

Civil law

The civil courts may prohibit the removal of any child from the UK either by making a Section 8 order under the Children’s Act 1989 inc, prohibited steps order, emergency protection, care or residence orders.

The civil courts may also make the child a ward of the court, automatically prohibiting his/her removal from the UK.  

If any of the above civil law orders are madel or a residence order is issuedl the courts can instruct the relevant person to surrender the child’s passport as a further preventative measure.

If there is already a previous civil court order made in relation to the child in question the police will take the threat very seriously and there will be state intervention by any of the authorities that has had previous dealings with the child.
Abduction considered likely

Where abduction is considered a real possibility, there may be more steps taken to further protect the child from potential abduction. Teachers, child minders and carers may be informed of the possibility, The courts may issue an order to ensure that when the child has contact with the potential abductor he is supervised by an authorised person. The courts may also call for the surrender of the passports belonging to the parents of the child.

What happens if there has been permission to take the child but there is fear of non- return to the UK?

Where the parent or person with parental responsibility over the child in question has given the possible abductor the permission to take the child out of the UK, eg, for a holiday, family visit etc, and there is a fear the person who has removed the child may not bring the child back to the UK there are two possible preventative measures.

Firstly, a ‘mirror order’ can be sought for the court of the country in which the child has been taken to for the visit or holiday etc. These orders will be on the same provisions as the order issued in the UK and are immediately enforceable in the visiting country. For example, if the court in England and Wales issues a specific issue order in relation to the amount of time the child can spend abroad, this will be directly copied in the visiting county so that if the order is breached the visiting country can automatically deal with the breach.  

There may also security taken from a willing party on behalf of the person that has taken the child abroad which will be forfeited should the child not be returned to the UK. The security is most commonly a large sum of money that will only be returned if the child is returned by the agreed date.

Article written by...
Lucy Trevelyan LLB
Lucy Trevelyan LLB

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Lucy graduated in law from the University of Greenwich, and is also an NCTJ trained journalist. A legal writer and editor with over 20 years' experience writing about the law.