Child Abduction

Next season one of our episodes will be on the topic of child abductions and address the law in regards to child abductions as well as provide advice for searching parents. The following is an overview of this topic.

Types of Child Abductions

The most common form of child abduction in Canada is parental child abduction. Parental child abduction occurs when one parent takes a child from the other parent without either legal authority or the permission of the parent who has lawful custody. Although in parental abduction cases the abductor may believe they have the best interests of the child in mind and assaults thus rarely happen, there is a significant opportunity for the child to experience emotional harm.

Stranger child abduction is less common than parental child abduction and occurs when the child is abducted by someone other than a parent or legal guardian. The “stranger” in these abductions encapsulates anyone who is not a parent or legal guardian of the child, and can counter-intuitively include someone known to the child or even a non-parent family member. Despite their intense media coverage, abductions by true strangers unknown to the family in any way are very rare. When stranger child abduction does occur, the abducted child is at a much higher risk for sexual assault and physical harm.

It is important to note that abduction can cover scenarios where a child is abducted for a very short time, kept safely and not necessarily taken far. All that is required to satisfy the offence is that the child be taken out of the possession of the parent with lawful custody or legal guardian without their consent.

Child Abduction Legislation

In Canada, child abduction is a crime under sections 280-283 of the federal Criminal Code. These sections specify the law as it pertains to the abduction of children under sixteen, the abduction of children under fourteen, child abduction in contravention of a custody order and parental abduction more generally.

If You Believe Your Child Has Been Abducted

If you believe your child has been abducted, the first step is to contact the police to file a missing person’s report. For the report, have a photograph of your child, a description of your child, their last known whereabouts, and their identifications numbers available.

In the case of a possible parental abduction, it is also important to attempt to contact the other parent and check if they have attempted to contact you. Document any conversations you have or messages you receive from them. Be sure to tell the police relevant facts such as whether your ex-partner has a history of violence or whether your child’s belongings, passports, or identification cards are missing. It is also recommended to contact a family lawyer as soon as possible to review current custody arrangements.

Further steps for searching parents and checklists can be found in the resources section below.

International Child Abduction

International child abduction cases can be difficult to resolve due to conflicting international jurisdictions. The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is an international treaty which provides a legal framework for the recovery of internationally abducted children. The treaty’s general orientation is aimed towards upholding the existing legal child custody arrangements between parents before a wrongful abduction. Unfortunately, the Hague Convention is not binding on the courts of signatories and these courts may be reluctant to separate children from caregivers. Courts may also be sympathetic to cases where women are fleeing with children and claiming domestic abuse, a common scenario in cases of international child abduction.

In Canada, the Our Missing Children program involves five federal government bodies in the objective of locating and returning missing and abducted children believed to be taken out of country: the RCMP, the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade and the Department of Justice.

Although it may be difficult with emotions running high, it is recommended that searching parents try to remain civil as possible when contacting the family members of an ex-partner who may be the abductor. International child abduction cases are most easily solved when the abducting parent voluntarily returns the child, and the abductor’s family can sometimes exert positive pressure on them to cooperate.

Resources for Searching Parents

A checklist for searching parents whose children have been parentally abducted can be found online here:

An online guidebook for parents dealing with international child abduction can be found here:

About Shari Willis

Shari Willis is a J.D. Candidate at the University of Victoria Law School. She completed her B.A. at Simon Fraser University in 2010 with a major in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and an extended minor in English. Shari formerly worked as a support worker and was active in campaigns and initiatives dedicated to ending violence against women. The views in this blog are not necessarily representative of AdviceScene and do not constitute legal advice.

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