Little official data and public awareness on missing children

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The reality of the situation of missing children in France is difficult to grasp. Information is scarce, and official statistics are hard to come by.

According to the association Droit d’Enfance who is in charge of the 116000 missing children hotline service in France, and cited by online publications, 51,287 minors were reported missing in 2019 in France:

49,846 runaway reports,918 reports classified as disturbing disappearance, and523 reports of abduction or misappropriation

The authorities state that it is difficult to provide an accurate number of missing children, as not all cases are reported and a child may be reported missing several times, especially if it’s a runaway case.

Call For Action

French authorities need to develop a stronger, more transparent database on the number of all missing children and the circumstances of their disappearances. This evidence is a must to push for legal changes.

Parents, children, and the greater community need to have a better understanding and awareness of how to prevent and respond to all forms of child abduction and parental alienation. The national abduction alert system and the 116000 hotline are not well-known or used by French parents.

Family Law

DomesticWhen parents separate, they can agree on visitation and custody terms on their own. If an agreement cannot be made, the family court will intervene to decide. Child custody often involves the child visiting the non-custodial parent on weekends and school holidays.Parental abduction is illegal in France and is punishable under the Penal Code. The French law states that “parental abduction occurs when a parent keeps his or her minor child(ren) with him or her when they should have been in the custody of the other parent.”The following situations are considered parental abduction, as known as child non-representation offense:

  • the refusal to return the child to his usual residence after visiting rights,
  • the refusal of the custodial parent to leave the child with the non-custodial parent, and
  • the refusal to leave the child with the parent who must accommodate the child in the context of an alternating residence.

Parental abduction also includes:

  • moving with the child without the consent of the other parent (if he has visitation rights) and without providing new contact details,
  • kidnapping in the strict sense, when a parent takes their child with him/her without having the right to do so, while the latter is at school, in the care of the other parent or other adults, such as relatives.

InternationalFrance signed the Hague Convention in 1993 and ratified and implemented it in 1998. A look at the 2015 return and access applications received by France through the Hague Convention reveals that:46% of applications received by France in 2015 ended in the voluntary return of the child or judicial order for return,5% of return applications ended in access being agreed or ordered,49% of return applications went to court and half those ended in a return compared, and27% of court orders were appealed.Overall, applications received by France were resolved in an average of 177 days.Alongside the Hague Convention, several other bilateral or multilateral agreements designed to combat the unlawful removal of children from their place of habitual residence and to protect their personal relations with one of their parents have been ratified by France: the European Regulation No. 2201/2003 known as Brussels II bis, the Luxembourg Convention of 20 May 1980, and bilateral conventions.If the state in which the child was abducted has not signed a convention, the French Central Authority has no conventional basis for intervening. In this case, it is recommended to contact the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Parental Abduction


French authorities do not publish how many abductions are made by a parent or a family member versus a stranger, nor where the kids are being taken to. However, it is often reported in media that parental abduction is on the rise with some 600 cases in 2017.


At a European level, Missing Children Europe reports 426 ongoing and 981 new cases of parental abduction, and 536 cross border cases across Europe in 2019. In the most recent Hague report, France ranked fifth in terms of the number of applications for the return or access to a child with a total of 294 applications. France is both a victim of international parental abduction as well as a destination for abductors. 134 of these were incoming applications demanding the return of children from France to some 40 countries while 160 demanded the return of children to France.

Little is published about where these children are taken to, though much media attention has been put on Japan. In the summer of 2020, Frenchman Vincent Fichot and Italian Tomasso Perina successfully lobbied the EU parliament to pass a resolution condemning Japan’s inaction and demanded the return of their abducted children. It has yet to have had any tangible effect on Japanese policies or practices.

Given that in France it is not mandatory for both parents to sign passport applications for their child(ren), it is not very hard for one parent to leave in secret especially if that parent holds dual citizenship.

Parental Alienation

In France, a child cannot decide to stop seeing a parent. A court decision regulates the relationship between parents and children. If a child refuses to return to one parent's home, the other parent can be criminally prosecuted for not representing the child, even though the police are not very responsive. The possibility exists for the alienated parent to initiate criminal proceedings.

These proceedings can be lengthy and psychologically tolling. This is because sometimes, claims of violence, rape, and sexual abuse are made. These claims have to be investigated and if found to be true can result in the parent losing custody.

While there are many legal procedures to address parental alienation. What is missing are pragmatic and effective solutions. Judges often feel powerless because they cannot follow the situation from day to day, while the manipulator continues his daily undermining work since he has the child under his control.


If you or someone you know fears that a child may be abducted by family members, you can take the following preventive measures:

  1. Establish the terms of parental authority -It is very important that an agreement is reached to establish the terms of parental authority. If the parents cannot come to an agreement, they should seek the support of a lawyer specializing in family and refer the case to the family court system.
  2. Keep communication lines open with the other parent and defuse conflict.Stay alert and pay attention to any major changes that may occur in that parent’s life, such as changing contact information, selling a home, or leaving a job. You can also ask people around you to inform you of any such activity.
  3. Keep contact information of that parent’s family members, especially if they live abroad
  4. Keep the child’s passport(s), identification cards, and family records safe.
  5. Prevent any passport application for your child without your knowledge. This is especially important if the other parent holds another citizenship. You can do so by contacting the embassy or consulate to inform them that you are opposed to any passport applications for your child without your consent.
  6. Contact the police in case of any verbal threats and keep a record of these threats as potential evidence

Missing Child

If you fear your child has been or will be abducted abroad, these measures can be taken:1.File a temporary restraining order (IST)This request allows you to oppose your child exiting the country without the other parent’s knowledge. This can be filed with the family affairs judge at the child’s place of residence and it allows the child to be registered in the Wanted Person’s File in France and the Schengen Information System in 26 European countries. It is valid until your child turns 18.2.File opposition to leaving the country (OST)This emergency measure prevents the other parent from leaving the country with your child without your consent. It can be filed at the prefecture or sub-prefecture or with the police or gendarmerie. It also allows the child to be registered in the Wanted Person’s File in France and the Schengen Information System in 26 European countries. The measure should only be implemented if you are rather certain the child is going to be taken abroad as it is only valid for 10-15 days and can only be implemented once.The French government has published detailed and easy-to-access information regarding parental abduction, offering a comprehensive list of actions you can take in the event that your child has been abducted by the other parent or a family member.If your child is missing, you can contact the French child protection center (CFPE) – Missing children answering the phone number 116000.If your child has been abducted by the other parent or a relative, you can find a detailed list of actions to be taken on The Ministry of Interior.In the event of unlawful removal abroad, you can find a comprehensive list of actions to be taken on The Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs.


Thanks to Anca Untu for the contribution in producing this country page.