Family collusion 'fuels child abduction in ethnic minorities'

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The Independent Online

The number of children snatched from British Asian and Middle Eastern families and taken abroad is growing because many abductors are able to rely on the complicity of family and friends, campaign groups said yesterday.

The number of children snatched from British Asian and Middle Eastern families and taken abroad is growing because many abductors are able to rely on the complicity of family and friends, campaign groups said yesterday.

Parents of abducted children faced problems from their communities in the UK and from the abductor's family members in their home countries, as they often colluded in abductions, they said.

According to the Reunite International Child Abduction Centre, women from ethnic minorities do not take legal action because they are afraid of bringing dishonour to the family by disobeying their husbands. The centre said these children – who are taken back to the parents' country of origin and often forced to marry – accounted for about 43 per cent of child abduction cases in 2001.

Hannana Siddiqui, of the Southall Black Sisters pressure group, added: "An abduction can become a lot easier if you have an international connection and the extended family can conspire to take children out of the country quickly. Women cannot always pursue their search as they fear being harmed or killed." The comments were made at a two-day summit funded by the Foreign Office aimed at raising awareness among victims reluctant to seek help because of cultural or linguistic barriers. It also sought to form links with mosque leaders, who often act as mediators.

Speakers said child abduction often remained a family secret. Women faced being turned out from their homes – which many share with their in-laws – if the crime were reported to the authorities.

Denise Carter, director of Reunite, added: "It is easy for abductors fleeing to Islamic and Eastern states, because there is no mechanism to get children back from those countries."

Most non-European countries do not adhere to the Hague Convention, an international agreement that obliges sovereign states to return abducted children to the country of habitual residence.

Child abduction by parents has doubled in Britain since 1995, according to Reunite, rising by 20 per cent last year.

Karen Betts, head of human rights in the consular division of the Foreign Office, said many parental child abduction cases in the UK involved Western families. But she said Asian and Middle Eastern women were less likely to know where to find help.

Dr Manazir Ahsan, director of the Islamic Foundation, a research and training body, said secrecy within families may be dictated by the tradition of maintaining family honour. "Islam, along with other faiths, condemns child abduction ... however, Muslims are sometimes reluctant to make child abduction public as it may be culturally sensitive and the victim cannot always come out and say, 'I need help'."

Nazik Karrar, from Manchester, has not seen her three children since they were taken to the Middle East in July 2001. Ms Karrar, who originates from an Arab country, moved to England after marrying her 32-year-old husband in 1991. She left her husband in 2001 after being badly beaten in front of her children, then aged three, four and eight, fearing for her life.

Her husband then fled with the children after saying he wanted to take them on a weekend treat to Alton Towers.

She later discovered he had made travel arrangements months in advance and had taken the children to Heathrow airport. She has received only one picture of her boys from a mutual friend and is too afraid to go to them.

"The children looked forlorn in the photograph but I cannot go to them. I think he [my husband] feels his honour has been injured," she said, adding that despite going to a mosque mediator, she was advised not to seek help from others.

"For a long time, I didn't want to tell anyone in the family. I am the eldest and it could bring shame to the house," she said.