Rise in abductions by parents to non-treaty countries

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The number of British children abducted by a parent and taken to a country beyond Foreign Office protection has risen by 10% in the past year, it says.

In 2010-11, there were 161 cases of children being taken to countries not signed up to a global child abduction treaty - up from 146 the previous year.

UK authorities struggle to negotiate a child's return from such a country.

The government has produced advice for people who fear a child is at risk. It believes many abductions go unrecorded.

Many abductions happen during school holidays, when a partner refuses to return a child following a trip to their home country.

Limited powers

Pakistan, Thailand and India were the most common abduction destinations last year among the 97 countries that have not ratified the 1980 Hague convention on international child abduction.

The convention provides a tight legal framework and means parents can apply to a UK central authority for their child's return.

The lack of international agreement in countries that have not signed up makes negotiations extremely complex for UK authorities.

Foreign Office (FCO) minister Jeremy Browne said this meant prevention was important.

"The FCO will do whatever we can to provide advice and support but our role is limited, not least because we cannot interfere in the laws of another country."

Between April 2010 and March 2011, the number of children being abducted to Pakistan fell from 24 to 21, and to India from 14 to nine. But abductions to Algeria rose from zero to nine.

There were 105 abductions to non-treaty countries in 2008-09.

Warning signs

The FCO's Child Abduction Section dealt with a total of 264 new cases of parental abduction in the past 12 months, including cases involving countries covered by the Hague convention.

These cases are then passed on to one of three central authorities covering England and Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.

The government will be promoting its awareness campaign on parenting websites Mumsnet and the Fatherhood Institute.

Sharon Cooke, from the Reunite International Child Abduction Centre, said there were warning signs which parents should look out for - the most obvious being the breakdown of a relationship.

Other warning signs include: a sudden interest in getting a passport or a copy of a birth certificate for the child; a parent expressing a wish to holiday alone with the child; or a sudden change in circumstances, including leaving a job or accommodation.

She said statistics for January to May 2011 showed a 21% increase in the number of abductions to non-treaty states compared with the same period last year.

"The psychological impact on children can be traumatic and for the left-behind parent, the shock and loss are unbearable, particularly if they don't know where their child is," she said.

Ms Cooke told BBC Breakfast the experience was "very difficult both for the left behind parent and for the child".

She added that it does not just affect the youngster's childhood, but often "carries on into their adulthood as well".

And she warned that, beyond official figures, there may be "many more" cases of abductions that authorities are unaware of.

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