About a fortnight ago, I had a piece in The Irish Examiner about child abduction. That was followed up by an appearance on Irish national TV where I gave an interview on the topic. Just yesterday, I spoke about the issue again, this time on radio.
The interest in child abduction and how to prevent it has led me to believe that more people are concerned about the issue than I had first thought. I have, therefore, decided to post about it here, and pass on the tips and information that I have in this regard.
While some of the things I have to say are very specifically pertinent to Irish parents, and those resident in Ireland, most are universal.
- To keep your children safe, establish with them and with the school, who exactly is allowed to pick them up from school. If there is to be a deviation from this norm, for whatever reason, you must let the school know in writing. For example, if the rule is that only you are allowed to collect the children from school, but on Monday you have a dental appointment and can’t, you write to your child’s teacher explaining that your sister, Rose, will be picking up Little Johnny from school today. Make sure your children know who will be picking them up as well.
- Have a ‘safe’ word, or ‘password’, that only you, your child and your child’s teacher know just in case you are incapacitated and need to send someone else to pick your kids up from school. Unless the person claiming to have the authority to pick up your child freely gives that word, your child is not to be released to them and the Gardaí are to be called.
- Re-visit the rules of stranger danger and that your children are not to get in to a car with a stranger no matter what that stranger tells them. Unless the stranger knows the safeword.
- Remember, if your ex wants to abduct your child/ren he or she may not do it personally; they may send a relative or friend to do it on their behalf.
- Have an ‘identification pack’ ready just in case your child/ren is/are taken from you. That pack should include:
1. Around six copies of a recent photograph (update the photograph every month.
2. Height and weight (again, take these measurements and record them regularly)
3. A DNA sample – this doesn’t need to be anything dramatic, the child’s hair pulled from the hairbrush after you’ve brushed it, or their toothbrush will do fine.
4. If your child wears glasses, take pictures of them with and without their specs.
5. If your child has long hair, take pictures of them with their hair down and also pulled back – so it looks short.
6. A written description of your child, with as much detail as possible anything you can think of that could help someone identify your child is useful.
For example – Mary is X’Y” (Z cms ) tall, she weighs 25kgs and has shoulder length blonde hair with a fringe. Mary has a scar on the back of her left hand from where she cut it when she fell last year. She has a slight stammer and is afraid of cats.
- Become hyper-aware of what your children wear when they go out to play every day. Really look at them and train yourself to know how they were dressed. If they wear a school uniform, make sure you know the details of their school bags – any logos, badges etc.
- The Hague Agreement offers some protection to abducted children. It is an agreement between countries that states a child taken by the non-custodial parent will be returned to the custodial parent.
- Get your children on the ‘Stop Pass’ list. This is a list held by the Passport Office. If you worry that someone may attempt to get a passport for your child by claiming that the one they have has been lost, you can have your child added to the ‘Stop Pass’ list. You need to give grounds, substantiate your claims and confirm that you have your child’s passport, that you keep it safely and ask that no one be allowed to receive a new passport for your child but you. You will receive written confirmation from the Passport Office that your child is on the list.
- Remember that if your child has been living in Ireland for more than twelve months and one day, they are deemed to be ‘legally resident’ here. That means that they fall under Irish jurisdiction and the Irish legal system governs their welfare.
- A ruling in a country outside the EU has no bearing whatsoever on you.
- To enforce a ruling in Ireland, the side that has been awarded it needs to apply for a ‘mirror order’ which is an application to the Irish courts to have a ruling similar to the one made abroad made in an Irish court. In other words, someone who is awarded custody of your child in, say, Israel, would need to apply to an Irish Court of the same level (i.e. circuit court here to match circuit court there) to make the same ruling in Ireland. Then it can be enforced here. An Irish court will only grant a mirror order if it is satisfied that to do so puts the rights of the child first.
- Irish courts are most concerned with the rights of the child. The mother’s rights and the father’s rights come after the best interest of the child.
- If you have serious grounds for concern, approach your local Gardaí. They will listen to you and, if they agree that your concern is valid, will open a file for you.
- If you can, apply for sole custody of your child. This provides some legal clout here and in a number of countries abroad. You have more of a leg to stand on if your ex does swoop in and take your child because the court here will not just award sole custody just because one parent asks for it. They will notify the other parent (no matter where they live) of the proceedings and invite them to be part of the proceedings. If they do not show up, or send a legal representative or if they do not impress the judge sufficiently as to why sole custody should not be awarded, only then will one parent be awarded sole custody
- In the event that your ex needs a visa to come to Ireland, notify the Irish Embassy in the country where your ex lives that there is a concern regarding abduction. While the Embassy cannot refuse to grant a visa just because you ask them to, they will make note of your fears and attach a reference to those fears when the visa application is forwarded to the Dept of Foreign Affairs. Abduction of Irish citizens is a very serious matter and is taken very seriously. It helps if you have a case file with your local Gardaí that you can quote the number of in your correspondence with the Irish Embassy abroad.
- If your child is eligible for Irish citizenship – for whatever reason – make sure they have it.