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Hague convention lets down youngsters forcibly taken from England and Wales, says campaign group
More than one in three children abducted from England and Wales and taken abroad have not returned home by the end of the year of being kidnapped, according to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act.
Statistics from the Ministry of Justice show that some foreign countries never return children, despite being signatories to the Hague convention, the multinational treaty designed to reunite families quickly.
Pressure groups said this showed the convention was not doing its job.
The figures revealed that of the 277 cases of child abduction dealt with by the justice ministry in 2008, just 103 led to children coming back to the UK. An estimated 140 youngsters did not return, such cases usually involving a parent taking drastic action after a relationship breakdown.
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The figures also show which countries have the best and worst record for returning children. In 2008, no children came back from Croatia, Ecuador, Honduras, Mauritius, Peru, Serbia, Sweden and Zimbabwe, despite all those nations being Hague convention signatories. One case, involving Mauritius, has been continuing since 2004. No children have been returned from Zimbabwe since 2005, and between 2001 and 2008 only four cases involving Mexico have caused children to return to England and Wales.
Eastern European countries have also got a poor record. Just two cases involving Serbia and Montenegro, Croatia and Macedonia have led to children coming home to England or Wales, since at least 1999.
The US has failed to return about a third of the children. In 2008, of the 30 cases dealt with by the justice ministry, 13 were unresolved at the end of the year.
The Ministry of Justice only deals with child abduction cases where children are taken from England and Wales to countries which have signed the Hague convention, which aims to make it easier to resolve child abduction cases among signatories. The high number of children who are not speedily returned suggests the convention often does not work.
Catherine Meyer, founder of Pact, a non-profit organisation that fights child abduction, said: “The overall picture remains depressingly bleak.”Despite the fact that parental child abduction is the subject of an international convention, the British government still tends to regard it as a private matter that does not require its vigorous intervention when the child of a British subject is illegally taken to another country.”
Some countries take a long time to reach a judicial decision about returning children. In Poland, in 2008, it took an average of 842 days for the courts to decide whether children should be sent home; in Spain, the average was 458 days.
Other countries were much quicker: the average time in Latvia was 54 days, and in Portugal it was 71 days.