International child abduction

What is international child abduction?

Child abduction occurs when a child is removed from the person who has the legal right to custody without that person’s consent or agreement.

International child abduction occurs when a child is:

  • Taken out of the country in which the child and the person who has the legal right to custody normally live (the child is unlawfully removed from a country)
  • Kept in another country where the child is visiting (the child is unlawfully retained in a country)

The abductor may be any person but frequently is one of the child’s parents.

For example, a child who is in the custody of their mother in Ireland is visited in Ireland by their father who lives in Spain. The child is then taken back to Spain by the father without the consent of the mother. The child has been abducted and unlawfully removed from Ireland by their father.

In another example, a child who is in the custody of their father in Ireland may go to visit their mother in the USA. If the mother keeps the child there beyond the agreed visiting time, the child been abducted and is unlawfully retained in the USA by their mother.

So, an abduction may involve the wrongful removal or the wrongful retention of a child.

International child abduction is a criminal offence in Ireland. A parent or anyone else who unlawfully abducts a child may be convicted of the offence.

When is the other parent's consent needed to remove a child from the State?

The other parent’s consent is necessary for the child’s removal to another state when:

  • The other parent is a guardian of the child
  • When the removal of the child affects custody and/or sometimes access rights
  • When a court order has specifically stated that the consent of the other parent or any other named party is needed before the child’s removal to another state.

How can a child be lawfully relocated to another country if the other parent does not agree, even when it's necessary?

For a child to be lawfully relocated to another country without the consent of the other parent, an application may be made to the court to allow the lawful removal of the child.

The same rules apply to temporary removal, for example, a holiday, as permanent removal.

What are the laws governing international child abduction?

The matter of arranging for the return of a child who has been abducted internationally is governed by international law. The Hague Convention and EU Regulation are the main legal frameworks for dealing with international child abduction cases, and they set out the rules that apply. The EU Regulation complements the Hague Convention within the EU and applies to an abduction from one EU member state to another.

International conventions apply to cases in which the EU Regulation does not apply. More than 100 countries are parties to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

The legislation is based on similar principles that:

  • The child should be returned to their habitual residence (where they normally live) as soon as possible
  • The courts of the jurisdiction in which the child is habitually resident (normally lives) are the appropriate courts to decide what is in the best interests of the child

If your child has been abducted within Ireland, the Hague Convention does not apply as it only deals with cases of inter-country abduction.

The Central Authority

The Central Authority in each country facilitates the return of abducted children to the country of their habitual residence (the country where they normally live). The Central Authority for Child Abduction at the Department of Justice is the national authority in Ireland for dealing with cases under the Hague Convention.

What should I do if my child is at risk of international abduction?

If you believe your child is at risk of abduction you should get legal advice and contact the Gardaí.

You can apply to the court requesting that it direct who should hold the passports, for example, you, the Gardaí, the courts.

If you are the legal guardian of your child (or have applied to be a guardian) you may contact the Passport Office and request that you be informed if the other parent applies for a passport for your child.

The Irish Centre for Parentally Abducted Children (ICPAC) (this organisation is no longer operating) published an ICPAC Prevention Pack (pdf) which provides information on the steps you should take if your child is at risk of abduction. This includes advice on gathering important information relating to your child, which will be required if your child is abducted, as well as on other steps you can take to reduce the risk.

Treoir has an information booklet for parents that are not married to each other (pdf). It also has information on what you can do if you are concerned your child is at risk of child abduction (pdf) and the contact details of organisations that can help you.

What should I do if my child is internationally abducted?

If your child has been internationally abducted, you should contact the Central Authority in the Department of Justice immediately in order to set in motion the procedures required in the country to which the child has been abducted.

All child abduction cases are treated as a matter of urgency.

The Central Authority assists left behind parents by:

  • Collecting documentation and sending the application form to the foreign Central Authority
  • Arranging translations of all documentation, as necessary
  • Monitoring the progress of the application
  • Providing further documentation to the competent authority in the foreign state, as necessary
  • Providing regular updates to the left behind parent
  • Assisting, where appropriate, with an application for legal aid

The Central Authority for International Child Abduction in Ireland does not charge for its services.

If your child has been abducted from Ireland and brought to a country that is not signed up to the Hague Convention, you should contact a solicitor in Ireland for advice on what legal proceedings may be necessary in the Irish courts.

Further information

The European Commission has published a leaflet on Cross-border Parental Abduction and how it can be prevented.

Department of Justice

51 St Stephen's Green
Dublin 2
D02 HK52

Tel: +353 1 4790278

European Parliament Mediator for International Parental Child Abduction

60 Rue Wiertz
B-1047 Brussels


28 North Great Georges Street
Dublin 1

Tel: +353 (01) 670 0120
Page edited: 4 October 2023