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Reunite: helping the children

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

At the start of reunite’s national awareness campaign Meg sent the following short contribution for their new website. Their campaign will end on the 4th December; during this time they will undertake a number of initiatives to raise the profile of international child abduction within the United Kingdom. For further details visit: http://www.reunite.org/index.asp

I am really pleased that Reunite has invited me to make a contribution for the launch of their new website and national awareness campaign.  I believe this work to be very important, and I’m delighted to get a chance to make clear my support.

Sadly, parental child abduction is an increasing problem.  As more mixed nationality marriages take place, we see more new families settling in a country where one partner is from overseas.  If these marriages break down, one parent may look to return to their country of origin, often seeking to leave with their children and, in too many cases, without the agreement of the other party.  The Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Justice do what we can to support those left behind.

In 2003, the Foreign Office created the Child Abduction Section. This is a dedicated team tasked with handling these distressing cases.  Since its inception, the team have tackled over 950 cases.

With the growing problem of parental child abduction, Reunite’s campaign to raise awareness about the issue is important; particularly the information about how abductions can be prevented in the first place. Abduction can have terrible psychological effects on children and the parent left behind.

It can also be very difficult to get children returned from some countries, particularly those that have not signed the Hague Convention.  In many cases a parent will need to employ a lawyer and take action in the local courts to establish custody or access to their children. This is a difficult, expensive and emotionally draining experience.   And as we are all well aware, legal proceedings can take many years.

We at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office support Reunite’s work to raise awareness of the problem. We work with the organisation on a number of initiatives to help achieve this, including contributing articles to the new website they are launching today.

There are joint projects, including a Seminar for Imams, which we plan to hold at the Islamic Foundation in Leicester in October and a planned international conference in Islamabad at the beginning of next year.  This is aimed at promoting awareness of the UK/Pakistan Protocol on Children Matters.

This protocol is a judicial agreement which aims to return abducted children to the country where they normally live.  The means that issues of custody can be decided by the courts of that country while, crucially, limiting the impact to the child.  This international conference will be important, particularly as we deal with a large number of abductions to Pakistan each year.  We have also provided Reunite with funding to conduct research into Pakistani and UK court orders to that we can obtain a better understanding of how effectively the Protocol is working.  We hope to have the results of this soon.

We are also collaborating with Reunite on other initiatives; providing funding for the charity to travel to Egypt to give mediation training to a women’s non-governmental organisation for instance. This is at a time when the Child Abduction Section is seeing an increasing number of child abductions to Egypt.   It is hoped mediation will help parents come to an agreement on issues such as custody and access.

For 21 years Reunite has been offering assistance to the parents of abducted children. I want to commend all those involved in this work.

Our staff in the Child Abduction Section work extremely hard, but would not be able to deliver such a high quality service without the expertise and professionalism that Reunite so ably provide

I know we will continue to work closely together in the future, spreading awareness about the issue of child abduction, and helping those parents left behind.

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