Parental Child Abduction

What is parental child abduction?

In the UK, it is a criminal offence [link to definitions] for anyone ‘connected with a child’ under 16 to take or send that child out of the UK without ‘appropriate consent’ of any other person who has ‘parental responsibility’ for the child:-

  • The people ‘connected with a child’ are the child’s parents, guardians and people with a residence order or who have parental responsibility.
  • ‘Appropriate consent’ is the consent of the mother, the father (if he has parental responsibility), the guardian or anyone with a residence order or parental responsibility, or the leave (permission) of the court.
  • ‘Parental responsibility’ is defined as “all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has”.

Parental child abduction is usually treated as a civil matter. Legislation in each of the four countries of the UK gives effect to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction – an agreement between countries which aims to ensure the return of an abducted child to the country where he or she normally lives, so that issues of residence (custody) and contact (access) can be decided by the courts of that country.

For more information on parental child abduction, prevention and practical steps to take if your child has been abducted see the Parents and Abducted Children Together Advice Centre

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Cross-border parental child abduction (EU Justice and Consumers): if you take your child abroad without permission you may be breaking the law and face proceedings to have the child returned

How many children are abducted by parents?

Police in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have recorded approximately 150 offences of parental child abduction in each of the last three years (2012/13 to 2014/15)¹. PACT’s research found that nearly two thirds of child abductions by a parent recorded by police involved the child being taken abroad².

parental child abductions

Many more cases of international parental child abduction are not reported to, or recorded by, police. Reunite, another charity specialising in international parental child abduction, opened 520 new abduction cases in 2013³. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office dealt with 553 international parental child abduction and child custody cases in 2013/14; double the number recorded a decade ago⁴.

Victims and perpetrators

Nearly three-quarters of children abducted abroad by a parent are aged between 0 and 6 years-old. Roughly equal numbers are boys and girls. Two-thirds of children are from minority ethnic groups².
70 per cent of abductors are mothers. The vast majority have primary care or joint primary care for the child abducted⁵. Many abductions occur during school holidays when a child is not returned following a visit to the parent’s home country (so-called ‘wrongful retentions’)⁶.

Effects of parental child abduction

Studies with professionals who work with abducted children, and with adults who were abducted earlier in life, indicate that children can experience severe trauma, often continuing into adult life. This includes physical, emotional, behavioural and social impacts including difficulties forging relationships as an adult. The latest research is available in our Publications page.

Pact selects-QuickTime H.264 from Glenn Gebhard on Vimeo.



¹ Newiss, G. and Collie, C. (2015) Police-recorded child abduction and kidnapping 2012/13 to 2013/14 England, Wales and Northern Ireland. London: Parents and Abducted Children Together.

² Newiss, G. and Traynor, M. (2013) Taken: A study of child abduction in the UK. London: Parents and Abducted Children Together and Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre.

³Reunite, personal correspondence.

⁴Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Duddrige, J. (2014) Parents urged to consider devastating consequences of child abduction. Gov.UK, 18 December 2014.

⁵Lowe, N. (2008) A statistical analysis of applications made in 2003 under the Hague Convention of 25 October 1980 on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction Part II – National Reports; and Lowe, N. (2011) A statistical analysis of applications made in 2008 under the Hague Convention of 25 October 1980 on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction Part III – National Reports. Cited in ¹ above.

⁶Foreign and Commonwealth Office (2011) Campaign launched to help tackle international parental child abduction. Press release: 28 June 2011. London: Foreign and Commonwealth Office.


Need help?

If you have been the victim of a crime:
Contact the Police on 999, or if it is not an emergency, call 101

If you have information about a crime or someone you’re concerned about:
Call Crimestoppers – anonymously – free on 0800 555 111


If you are a child and you are worried about an issue:
Call Childline free on 0800 1111


For information on parental child abduction see: