Ease of travel has made international child abduction an increasing menace – but family judges have a formidable arsenal at their disposal in their relentless efforts to reunite abducted children with their loved ones. The point was made by a case concerning a little girl who has been missing for seven years.
The girl was aged four when she went with her parents on what should have been a short holiday to Egypt, the father’s country of origin. He succeeded in separating the girl from her mother and the child had remained in Egypt, probably living with her paternal family, ever since.
After the parents returned to England, lawyers swiftly launched proceedings on the mother’s behalf and her daughter, a British citizen, was made a ward of court. The father, however, steadfastly defied court orders which required him to reveal their daughter’s whereabouts. He had been repeatedly jailed for contempt of court and had, altogether, served almost two years in prison. However, he had remained unwavering in his refusal to cooperate.
In ruling on the matter, a family judge noted that, save for a few occasions of Skype contact, the mother had not seen her child since her disappearance. The cruelty that the father had inflicted on mother and daughter was appalling and it was hard to imagine the daily agony that the mother had to endure. However, having already served close to the maximum two-year sentence for contempt, the father could not be further punished in the civil arena.
That was not the end of the matter, however, and the judge urged the prosecuting authorities to consider criminal proceedings against the father for perjury or an offence under the Child Abduction Act 1984. The judge also took the rare step of formally requesting the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to use all available diplomatic measures to persuade the Egyptian authorities to locate the missing child and arrange her return to the UK.