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Is child abduction a criminal offence?

expert family law advice

The most common form of child abduction is when a parent wrongfully removes a child from this jurisdiction of England & Wales to another jurisdiction. This is commonly known as ‘parental child abduction’. While child abduction by removal from this country is a criminal offence, child abduction by retention is not an offence.

There are, however, plenty of situations where a child has gone overseas, for example, on holiday but then a parent decides not to return the child home. This is known as ‘wrongful retention’ of a child and is also a form of child abduction.

Arguably child abduction, whether by unlawfully removing a child from England & Wales or wrongfully removing a child in another country, is any less or more serious. Child abduction potentially exposes a child to great emotional harm by removing the child from his/her home and not being able to see the parent left behind.

With a wrongful retention situation, the left behind parent has no recourse to any criminal process or the police because it not a presently a criminal offence.

Reunite International Child Abduction Centre has been working to with government departments to make this wrongful retention a criminal offence and now the Law Commission has made a recommendation to Parliament to make this a criminal offence.

Reunite’s statistics show that c.40% of all child abduction situations are by retention so this is a big problem. Whether or not there is a change in the law or how long this takes remains to be seen but this recommendation has to be welcomed.

In any case, what a parent needs to do is seek advice from a specialist family law solicitor to explore they rights and what orders are available to secure the return of the child through the family courts and/or via the Hague Convention if it applies.

Like most things in life prevention of is better than cure and specialist family law advice should always be obtained urgently if there is a fear or risk of child abduction.

For specialist advice on any family law related issue contact Maguire Family Law by email: or telephone:

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