This week saw the 30th International Missing Children’s Day, at a time when international abductions from England are growing in number annually – more than 700 children were taken in 2013. The majority of children taken abroad will never be returned home, and when they are, the process often takes years.
Unless it’s happened to you or someone you know, it’s unlikely you have any idea how complex and horrific this situation actually is. There is very little policy or practice in place to prevent these abductions or enable these children to be recovered. Parents assume their children have the protection of the law and the government if ever they should need to be rescued, but in most cases this is simply not true.
On 4 April, I wrote to the prime minister’s office asking for assistance in my case, and also outlining policy changes that would reduce abductions and increase the chances of recovery for those children already taken. I requested acknowledgment that, in the interests of child protection and human rights, the government is willing to work on making some of these changes. Some of the current laws on child abduction haven’t been amended in 30 years.
Areas that need to be addressed are changes to border control policy, amending the Child Abduction Act, creating police-response protocol, training lawyers and judges on prevention mechanisms, giving additional resources to Reunite International to support parents, and making legal aid available to parents who are victims.
Seven weeks later I received a response. All they did was change the date on the last letter they’d sent me in March; not one other word in the entire letter had been changed. The contents of my letter of 4 April, different from my previous letters, were not acknowledged or addressed. The accompanying letter from the correspondence officer at No 10 Downing Street simply states: “I am sorry that I am unable to send a more positive reply.”
It is clear that my letter of 4 April was not even read. This is symbolic. Left-behind parents, and their children, are being ignored. Abduction is a human rights violation against children, who need to be protected and brought back home to safety. Who can look out for them and protect their rights if our own government is unwilling to?
Research shows that child victims suffer greatly as a result of their abductions. Even when the abductor is a parent, nearly a quarter of the abducted children are abused in some way that causes long-term trauma. Abductors usually have histories of abuse, personality disorders, no qualms with breaking the law, and records of placing their personal desires before their children’s wellbeing.
Being a left-behind parent has put me in an unfortunate group, and I am in contact with other parents suffering the same tragedy. There are so many stories and obstacles, and so few happy endings. In 2014, children, the most vulnerable in our society, are not afforded the protection of the law or the support of the police or of the government. Although these situations only affect a small percentage of the population, the scale of the abuse is such a gross offence against innocence that it should be recognized as horrendous.
To be clear, these are not custody battles – abductors are breaking the law. Every child deserves to be at home with their loved ones, not stolen away as the prisoner in a warped adult’s power game.
Left-behind parents are looking for the government to adopt the measures necessary to prevent children from being further victimized. We know what needs to be changed, and further delays are unacceptable. How can our government justify not affording protection to defenseless children? Their lives are at stake, and with every month more children will be lost.