Frustration, entitlement, revenge, fear, anger – a few of the powerful emotions that are coursing through the body of a parent who feels cheated out of parenthood. So what do they do? Take the child.

“A broadcast was put out to police forces across the province to be on the lookout for the boy’s mother.”

That was from a Dec 4th story in the Ottawa Citizen about a child being abducted by his mother, who was not the custodial parent. It happens more than 4 times a week in Canada, and in the UK there are two a day, it happens on a regular basis all around the world.

The American Congress passed a child abduction bill on December 11th. It would give the President the ability to inflict penalties on countries that refuse to return American children to their guardians and parents. Sweden has also decided to strengthen abduction legislation. The Swedish term is roughly translated as ‘arbitrary conduct with a child’. Sweden intends to criminalize wrongful detention. It is a criminal act to abduct your child. And of course it is an extreme form of alienation because the abductor is, in essence, annihilating all contact with the other parent.

There is the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction,  it is designed to ensure the prompt return of the child, and guarantee that the rights of custody and access are respected in the event of an international abduction. In spite of the convention being designed to deter international child abduction, locally at least (British Columbia), the Ministry of Children and Family asserts that fairness to the child should outweigh the deterrence. That last sentence is a pretty powerful caveat. The convention states that contracting states must order the return of the abducted child immediately if the abduction is within the last twelve months – unless it is demonstrated that the child is now settled in its new environment.  The arguments of those responsible for considering the welfare and interests of the child (respondent’s lawyers), strengthen with time. In other words the obligations of the Convention are outweighed by the stability interests of the child. Precedent has been firmly established that deterrence must yield to the best interests of the child. The convention ceases to apply once the abducted child is 16 years old. Interpretation – you need to act fast because arguments of ‘stability and settlement’ will get stronger by the day.

If you are a parent or guardian and you abduct your child, the chances of not being charged with parental child abduction in Canada are quite good. In essence, you’ve got a 70% chance of not getting charged with the crime. It seems the law is quite forgiving about it. For instance, of the 245 cases of domestic parental abduction (in contravention of a custody order) in 2002, only 21% resulted in charges. In 2012, the chances of being charged stood at 28%. In international abduction cases the chances (on average) of a charge are even less, as indicated by the graph below.

In the public interest of justice and equality, there are unfortunately no statistics available for the gender of the parent who carries out the abduction, and there are no statistics available for the gender of those who are actually charged for the offence. Why would, or should, this matter? For public interest in justice and equality. InternationalAbductionI’d suspect that a higher percentage of men are charged, and I’d suspect that a greater percentage of women are not charged with the crime. A recent article from Family Law UK claimed that, “[International] Abductions are more likely to take place where there is a link in the family to more than one country, and 70% of cases are mothers abducting rather than fathers.” Interpretation, ex-pat moms return to their country of citizenship with the kids. Thus there is an obvious risk factor for international parental abduction when there is a link to more than one country in the family.

In Canada, the average international parental child abduction rate is just over 8 children per year, over the last 11 years to 2012. The average number of charges per year in Canada over the same period is 1.

The instances of domestic abduction (the contravening of a custody order), are higher, with an 11 year average of 164 per year, and an average of 43 charges per year. Thus it is obvious, for whatever reason, most parental abductions do not result in charges being laid. Parental child abduction is not a criminal offence, it is considered a lessor civil offence.

There is an alert system put in place that began in America and has been adopted in Canada among other countries. It is called an AMBER alert. However, it requires that the abducted child or children to be perceived as –  in danger. AMBER alerts are not intended for parental abduction cases because they are considered to be mundane by AMBER alert authorities. Although the alert system and it’s application is a topic in itself.

The Wikipedia entry on child abduction notes that,  “International child abduction is not new. A case of international child abduction has been documented aboard the Titanic. However, the incidence of international child abduction continues to increase due to the ease of international travel, increase in bi-cultural marriages and a high divorce rate. Parental abduction has been defined as child abuse.” And yet it is a form of abuse that is consistently forgiven by police as evidenced by the chances of charges being laid.