Preventing Child Abduction

Precautionary measures

A parent suspecting that the other parent intends to remove the child from the country without permission may apply for interim precautionary measures. Depending on the situation, such measures ensuring enforcement are based on different provisions and may take different forms. For instance, when rights of access are enforced, the court may oblige the applicant to deposit the valid passports of the applicant and the child with a bailiff for the time of a visit.

Extremely Urgent Cases
If the child is in the sole custody of one of the parents or in joint custody and either of the parents has good grounds to suspect that the other parent intends to wrongfully remove the child from the country, he or she may in extremely urgent cases contact a bailiff or the police directly, and these may immediately take the child into custody in order to prevent abduction.

Joint custody may be based on marriage, a court decision or a confirmed agreement.

Section 48a of the Child Custody and Right of Access Act

  • Applicable in urgent cases
    a) when the parents have joint custody based on law, i.e. no custody decision or agreement exists, or
    b) a decision on joint custody has been rendered and the parent with whom the child has been ordered not to live wants to prevent abduction
  • request is directly submitted to a bailiff or the Police.

Section 25 subsection 2 of the Act on the Enforcement of a Decision on Child Custody and Right of Access

  • Applicable in urgent cases when
    a) a custody ruling has been given and enforcement proceedings based thereon have been initiated, or
    b) a custody ruling has been given but enforcement proceedings have not yet been initiated.
  • The applicant may either be a sole custodian or the joint custodian with whom the child lives.
  • request is submitted to a bailiff or the Police.

Urgent Cases
If enforcement proceedings concerning child custody are pending, a request for precautionary measures may in less urgent cases be submitted to the court considering the matter, a bailiff or the Police. The court may for instance order that the social welfare authorities temporarily place the child in appropriate care till the situation has been cleared up.

Section 25 subsection 1 of the Act on the Enforcement of a Decision on Child Custody and Right of Access

  • Applicable when a custody ruling has been given or an agreement confirmed, and enforcement proceedings are pending on it.
  • A request is submitted to the court considering the enforcement case.
  • The applicant may either be a sole custodian or the joint custodian with whom the child lives.

Child welfare measures

When the threat of child abduction is imminent an extreme preventive measure may be an emergency placement of a child in accordance with the Child Welfare Act (No. 417/2007).

Chapter 8 of this Act regulates the emergency placement of a child and Chapter 9 the taking into care. Section 40 lays down the prerequisites for taking into care. It provides that children must be taken into care and substitute care must be provided for them by the municipal body responsible for social services if their health or development is seriously endangered by lack of care or other circumstances in which they are being brought up or they seriously endanger their health or development by abuse of intoxicants, by committing an illegal act other than a minor offence or by any other comparable behaviour. Taking a child into care and the provision of substitute care may, however, only be resorted to if the measures in the open care would not be suitable or possible for providing care in the interests of the child concerned or if the measures have proved to be insufficient. In addition, it is required that substitute care is estimated to be in the child's interests.

If the custodian or a child of 12 years of age or more does not oppose the taking into care, the municipal officeholder directing social services or an officeholder designated by him or her and satisfying the qualification requirements for a social worker decides on taking the child into care. If the custodian or a child of 12 years of age or more opposes the taking into care the administrative court decides the case.

Section 38 of the Child Welfare Act concerns emergency placement. By virtue of the section, a child who is in immediate danger for a reason referred to in section 40 or otherwise in need of urgent placement or substitute care can be placed with urgency.

The child welfare authorities may take action on the basis of a child welfare report submitted by a parent, or, for instance, a report by the Border Guard or the Police.

Decisions concerning taking a child into care and emergency placement may be implemented immediately regardless of appeals if the implementation cannot be postponed without endangering the child's health or development and the authorities or the court has ordered the decision to be implemented promptly.

An emergency placement of a child may be executed by the social welfare authorities of the child's municipality of residence or of the municipality where the child is staying. Especially in situations where there is a threat of abduction and a child has been taken outside its domicile and is on its way to a port, airport or border crossing, or has already arrived there, it may be necessary for the social welfare authorities of the municipality where the child is at that moment to take immediate action. If abduction already has occurred, the social welfare authorities of the child's last municipality of residence in Finland are competent and obliged to act in child welfare situations.

In addition, an emergency placement of a child may be justified in situations where it is known that abduction has occurred, and there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the conditions of the child seriously endanger the health or development of him or her. An example is a situation in which either the parent abducting the child or the child or young person abducted is mentally ill or seriously abuses intoxicants. On the basis of earlier information it may also be justified to suspect on other grounds that the parent abducting the child is incapable of properly taking care of, bringing up or seeing to the welfare of the child. Further, it may be possible to assess that the child is caught in a situation in which the health or development of the child is seriously endangered. In the case of a small child, for instance, the fact that the child suddenly finds itself in a foreign linguistic and cultural environment or in a situation where he or she is separated from the parent who has cared for him or her can seriously jeopardize the health or development of the child.

On the basis of the emergency placement or care order the social welfare authorities have the right to executive assistance in Finland for instance from the Police and the border control authorities.

When a child has been placed in emergency placement or taken into care, the social welfare authorities have the right to decide on the whereabouts and the care, upbringing, supervision and other welfare of the child as well as the teaching and health care necessary for the implementation of them. Section 49 of the Child Welfare Act provides that the substitute care of a child that has been placed urgently or taken into care can be arranged in the form of family care, institutional care or in some other way required by the child's needs. According to the provision a child that has been taken into care may be placed temporarily for a maximum period of six months under the care and upbringing of a parent or other custodian when it is justified in terms of the child's interests.

Decisions based on the Child Welfare Act regarding the care, whereabouts and contacts of a child that has been urgently placed or taken into care generally have priority in relation to general court rulings or confirmed agreements concerning child custody, residence and rights of access. Only a decision on the return of a child based on the Hague Convention by a court of appeal or the Supreme Court may be enforced irrespective of the child having been taken into care.

Restraining order

The purpose of a restraining order is to ensure in advance the safety of a person in danger of becoming a victim of a crime against life, health or freedom. Such an order may be issued if there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the person to be restrained could threaten the life, health or freedom of the person to be protected or in some other way seriously molest that person. There are two types of restraining orders. A person under a normal restraining order may not meet or in any other way contact the protected person. An extended order includes the prohibition to enter a certain area, for instance the vicinity of the protected person's apartment.

A person feeling threatened or molested may apply for a restraining order, which is given by a district court. Restraining orders are noted in the police personal data register, and it is the police that see to it that the orders are obeyed. The punishment for violating an order is a fine or imprisonment.

Restraining orders may be applicable when there is a threat of child abduction. A child can also be protected by a restraining order. In practice one of the parents is then under a restraining order as regards the child. So far there is little experience of the use of restraining orders in the prevention of child abduction.