Passport loopholes help child abductors: Labour calls for more thorough checks at post offices

Click to follow
The Independent Online
PASSPORTS are being issued for children without any check being made that the adult applicant is a relative, or that the child is correctly identified. There are more than 1,200 child abductions a year from the UK, and many of these are aided by easy loopholes in the system for acquiring temporary travel documents. The Independent has discovered it is possible to include a child on a visitor's passport without providing any evidence that the applicant is a parent, that he or she has permission of the other parent to take the child out of the country or that the child is subject to a custody order.

At one post office, in Hampstead, north London, a visitor's passport, which allows travel to 25 countries, including Tunisia and Turkey, was issued for a child and adult who do not share the same surname. No request was made for legal documents (a birth certificate, for instance) that would indicate who the child's parents were. Nor was it necessary to prove that the name given for the child was real.

Only children above the age of eight are legally permitted to be included on a visitor's passport. In this case, the child was two months old.

The cross-party Parliamentary Working Party on Child Abduction, published a detailed report in March, which called for a new passport regime, which only allows children to travel on their own travel documents.

The report concludes that, at the least, photographs of children should be included in temporary family passports. The Government has ignored the report's recommendations.

Labour is to call for more effective controls. Tony Blair, shadow Home Secretary, said: 'Clearly more action needs to be taken to tighten the system up. We will be raising the matter with the Government.'

The Home Office said last week that it had started an investigation into the issue of the passport from Hampstead.

A spokeswoman said the mother's consent was required before a temporary passport could be issued. But this is only true in a minority of cases.

According to the application forms for both the visitor's passport and the British excursion document, which allows travel to France only, the mother's consent is only required if the parents are not married. However, there is no way for the post office to find out whether the parents are married because the application form does not ask for production of a marriage licence.

The spokeswoman conceded: 'We are aware that there is a problem with child abduction; and there are lists of endangered children held at airports, but it also works the other way - you cannot make it too difficult for parents to take children with them on holiday. I can only apologise about this incident.'

To include a child on a visitor's passport, an adult needs to provide proof of his identity (this can be nothing more than a bank cheque card, or a gas bill).

The issue of temporary travel papers with virtually no supporting documentation is also commonplace, according to Reunite, a voluntary organisation which is campaigning for much tighter controls over passports. If it was not so easy to put children on temporary passports, most abductors would be thwarted.

If a parent is suspected of planning an abduction, the parent with custody has the right to ask the Home Office to ensure that no passport is issued for the child. But this only applies to permanent passports.

There is no central register of visitor's passports. Not even the police can quickly find out whether one has been issued.

'We are particularly concerned because the temporary non-visa passports, which are not controlled, provide access to Tunisia, which leads on to Libya, and Turkey, which leads to Iran,' said Anne-Marie Hutchinson, chairman of Reunite.

In many abductions dealt with by Reunite, temporary passports are blamed for an easy exit from the UK.