I've just been held at Zurich airport by border police – because I am an unmarried mother. Standing in line for 45 minutes at passport control with my two half-asleep children at 6.30am, little did I know that the hellish part of the journey was still to come.
"How are you related to these children?" asked the man in uniform as we stepped up to the line.
"I'm their mother," I said. "Then why do you have a different name?" Taken aback, I explained my marital status – but he didn't like the answer. "Where is their father's permission?" he demanded. Permission? In the eyes of the law, I have sole parental responsibility. Why would I need anybody's permission? I was flummoxed.
"You cannot come through. Get back over there," he shouted, taking our passports and pointing to a wall at the back of the security area. The kids (and I) were shaken: being shouted at by security police is a harrowing experience. I am well aware that it's essential to protect children, but is it really necessary to make them cry in the process?
Eventually, another policeman appeared ushered us through with a warning never to come again "without the right papers".
So just what is the documentation required and where do you get it? Back home, my first stop was the Identity and Passport Service, but they were perplexed. They didn't know of any specific documentation, and advised me to contact the Foreign Office. They, too, didn't know what was being referred to. Nor did the Swiss Embassy in London, or the British Embassy in Berne. That's all as clear as mud then. According to the UK Border Agency, there is no mandatory requirement for an EU national child to travel with a letter of consent if travelling with adults with a different surname. But the British Embassy says that "it would be advisable for parents to carry an official paper" (perhaps a birth certificate, with both parents' names).
Clearly there is a need for decipherability on this, particularly as nearly half of all children are born to unmarried parents. And perhaps a little less shouting will stop the unnecessary distress.Reuse content