Introduction

The past decades have shown a marked increase in international intercourse between people, and the trend is expected to continue. The number of marriages and cohabitation relationships between people from different countries is also clearly rising. As a result, there will be a corresponding increase in the number of divorces and the dissolution of relationships.

The dissolution of family communities is particularly distressing when children are involved. In some cases unfortunately, one of the parents, the Finnish or the foreign partner, sees it best to solve the deadlocked or broken family situation by removing the child from its familiar surroundings, in extreme cases even by taking the child abroad.

Efforts have been made to prevent and settle international child abductions by means of international conventions, primarily the Hague and the Council of Europe Conventions on Child Abduction. International conventions do, however, not always work quickly enough nor in the desired way. Moreover, international conventions can be invoked only if the country concerned has acceded to them.

A child can be abducted to a country that has not acceded to the above international conventions. In such cases no predetermined procedure can be applied. What measures can be taken depends under those circumstances on the legislation of the country in question.

It is important to bear in mind that the cultural, religious and legal systems in other countries differ from the Finnish system and that the attitude to children, parents and questions related to guardianship and access can be very different from what we are used to.

In some countries the mother has the custody of her children as long as they are small, but as they grow older, the custody is automatically transferred to their father. The age limit can vary depending on the sex of the children. Sometimes a certain religious conviction is required for a parent to be entrusted with the custody of his or her children. The grandparents and the parents of the children may have equal rights. The evaluation of what lies in the best interest of the children differs from Finnish criteria. The court dealing with questions of custody of children can be religious or civil.

Requests for information on child abduction both from the point of view of the parents and the officials dealing with it have come from different quarters. This booklet has been compiled for that purpose. The beginning of the booklet contains basic instructions for parents on practical measures to be taken. The end part sets out acts and conventions related to child abduction as well as the possibilities for Finnish authorities to intervene.