Call to end loophole one parent to remove a child from country without permission

CAMPAIGNERS are calling for an end to a 'kidnapper's charter' which enables a parent to remove children from Scotland without the other parent’s permission.

While in England this would be regarded as a criminal offence under the Child Abduction Act 1984, a loophole in Scots Law means police are powerless to act unless there is a court order in place.

Solicitor Yousif Ahmed is now urging the Holyrood administration to urgently close the loophole in a bid to ensure parents and children across the UK have the same protection and rights.

The 29-year-old became involved after coming across the case of a father whose infant son had been taken to the Middle East without his knowledge or permission.

Mr Ahmed has now been in touch with Justice Secretary Michael Matheson and has already won the backing of Reunite International, a charity specialising in international parental child abduction.

In the last year alone they have been contacted by Scots parents - mainly fathers - whose children had been taken to nations including India, Pakistan, Thailand, Sudan, Uganda, Vietnam, Australia, Canada, Italy and South Africa without their permission.

Although the Hague Convention provides a potential method of returning to an abducted child from one member country to another, only 98 states have ratified it.

Mr Ahmed, an associate with Cannons Law Practice in Glasgow, said the current law simply was “not fit for purpose” and added: “With the world growing smaller, international relationships are becoming more common but if such a relationship breaks down it is ultimately the children who may end up paying the highest price by losing all contact with a parent and their friends.

“With the exception of Scotland, the rest of the United Kingdom rightfully criminalises the wrongful act of parental child abduction. That is a form of deterrence firmly in place.

“Surprisingly, we do not have that deterrence here – parental child abduction is not recognised as a criminal offence unless a court order has been obtained prohibiting the removal of a child and that in itself raises various problems and issues.

“To obtain such a court order, you must have some prior knowledge of a pending or imminent abduction and go through a formal legal process which in most cases is not fit-for-purpose, nor effective for preventing parental child abduction from Scotland.

“We also have a distinct lack of protocol and practice for preventing parental child abduction where an abduction is suspected as being likely – what that means is that without a court order, there are is no scope of alerting police to put in place port alerts or red flags which can alert UK Border control of a child being at risk of parental child abduction, unlike in England and Wales where a system of protocol and practice is in place to help prevent this from happening.”

Mr Ahmed has met with MSP Mary Fee, a Labour member of the Holyrood Justice Committee, and has been promised face-to-face talks with Mr Matheson or his officials before the end of the year.

The matter was previously raised with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon through her constituent Peter Hansen when his children were taken to Japan by his estranged wife without his knowledge.

Last night Alison Shalaby, from Reunite, said: “We recently received a call from a concerned parent who feared their child was being removed from Scotland without their permission.

“It was heartbreaking to tell them there was nothing we could do. Had the parent been in England we could have alerted the police and the ports to prevent from that child from leaving.

“But because of the anomaly in Scots law it is currently not possible unless there is a court order in place and for that you need to have prior knowledge this could be happening.

“What Yousif is doing in incredibly important as it will hopefully lead to better understanding of the situation and increase awareness because these cases are hugely under reported.

“In vast majority of cases it is the mother who decides to return to their country of origin after their relationship breaks down and they want to take their child or children with them.

“Unfortunately little regard is paid to the parent left behind or indeed the harm that can be done to a child removed from their social circle, school, friends and other family members.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “There is already legislation in place making it an offence in Scotland for a person connected with a child under 16 to take or send the child out of the UK without the appropriate consent where a court order is in place awarding custody of the child to another person or prohibiting removal of the child from the UK.”

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