At least two children a week were abducted by parents taking them in or out of Ireland last year.
Some 109 new abductions were logged with the Irish Central Authority for International Child Abduction during the year, involving 64 children taken out of Ireland and 45 brought here.
There were also 99 new applications involving access and other legal proceedings relating to children at the centre of transnational custody disputes, meaning the total number of new files received rose by 42%.
In addition, there were 138 cases on hand from previous years, meaning a total of 346 cases — the highest-ever handled by the Central Authority which is part of the Department of Justice.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said parental child abduction was a growing problem globally. “Ireland is no different and it is important that we are proactive in working with central authorities in other states in resolving complaints regarding international parental child abductions where they arise,” said Ms Fitzgerald.
As with previous years, a large proportion (49%) of the new applications related to children taken to or from Britain and the North; while 9% involved Germany; 7% Poland; 18% other European countries; and 16% the US.
The remaining 9% involved countries further afield, including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Colombia, Thailand, and Sri Lanka.
However, that may not reflect the full scale of child abduction as the Central Authority can only work to resolve cases involving countries that are signatories to the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction. Even where both parents are based in signatory countries, the large number of abduction cases carried over from previous years illustrates the difficulty in resolving them.
Ms Fitzgerald urged estranged parents not to let personal differences become transnational legal battles.
“I would encourage any family to try to resolve their differences before such situations arise and avail of the services available to mediate solutions in the best interest of the children and all those involved,” she said. “The Family Mediation Service is part of the Legal Aid Board and can help families reach agreement without having to resort to court.”
Of the 346 cases processed, 194 related to children taken out of Ireland and in 29 of those it was decided that the children should return to where they had been living.
In 14 of those cases, foreign courts ordered their return and in 15 cases, they were returned voluntarily or an alternative arrangement was agreed by the parents. A further 21 applications were withdrawn and 82 were awaiting resolution by the end of the year.
Of the 152 cases involving children abducted into this country, 74 were unresolved by the end of the year. In 23 cases, it was decided the children should return to where they were living and in 13 of those cases, the return was carried out by consent or voluntarily. A further 21 cases were withdrawn.
See www.legalaid.ie or call the Central Authority for Child Abduction on 01 4790200.
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