TALLINN - International kidnapping by estranged parents is on the rise. In the first six months of 2008 the Ministry of Justice investigated five cases. In four of them a child was taken out of the country; in the other, a child was brought into Estonia.
The Ministry of Justice says that the reason behind the increased number of such kidnappings is that people move around more before starting families. There has been an increase in Estonians marrying people of different nationalities. Then, after divorcing or splitting up, they run into problems deciding in which country the child should live.
The Ministry of Justice considers "international kidnapping" to be a case when a person under 16 is taken from a parent to a foreign country or is kept in a foreign country. In most cases, the perpetrator is the other parent.
An official from the criminal data and analysis department, Urvo Klopets, explained that despite the "kidnapping" moniker, these cases are not criminal. Rather, they are simply disagreements over where the child is going to live.
There have also been three cases in which applications for visiting rights have been opposed by the other parent. The Ministry of Justice received two applications from Ireland, where it was announced that a child had been brought to Estonia without the other parent's permission. In three cases a child was taken out of the country.
When a child is taken out of Estonia, the parent should notify the Ministry of Justice. When the child's location is clear, the ministry tries to solve the situation without going to court by requesting the child's return.
In some cases the other parent cannot be forced to return the child. If more than a year has passed and the child has adapted to its new environment; if returning the child would cause physical or psychological suffering; or if the child is old enough do decide not to come back, the child may remain abroad.
Estonia has cooperated on the issue with Finland, Sweden, Latvia, Italy, Norway, Canada, Germany, France and Great Britain.
Child abduction is a crime when the perpetrator is not a parent. There were 16 such cases in 2007 and six in the first half of 2008. Most of these cases are linked to quarrels, beatings and blackmail.