Numbers from Portuguese Police indicate that around 1000 children go missing per year in Portugal. Over the last 13 years, all children were found and returned to their homes. Unfortunately, there are still children missing from previous years.
Data from missing children hotline 116000 for the year 2013, show sixty cases of missing children; 24 or 40% of which were cases of parental abduction.
Portugal is a small European country but has deep ties to large countries such as Brazil or its former African colonies. Many Portuguese nationals were born in Africa and have returned to Portugal after the colonies’ independence in the mid-1970s. There are also many Portuguese people living in other European countries, such as France and Germany.
The fact that Portuguese people have ties to so many countries is relevant information regarding children’s abduction. Portuguese parents must know the legal status of governments regarding the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction.
Portugal needs to acknowledge parental alienation as a problem. Similar judicial systems, such as the Brazilian, have laws regarding this problem. Portugal should set a clear message regarding parental alienation, determining the consequences and the responsibility. Children need protection in high-conflict divorces, and when one of the parents alienates the child from the other parent.
The 116 000 hotline is not well known by parents. There needs to be a public campaign to raise awareness. Parents need to understand the importance of reaching out as soon as possible. National organizations operate this network of missing children hotlines in 32 countries in Europe, providing families and children free and immediate emotional, psychological, social, legal, and administrative support 24 / 7.
Portuguese legal system favors joint custody when a couple divorces. Exceptionally, when the child faces any risk, such as domestic violence or child abuse, the court can determine that one parent has legal custody.
The alternate residency has been gaining popularity in Portugal. In this system, parents have joint custody of their children, but residence is shared. The child lives part-time at each parent’s home. The court will determine how long the child will stay at each home and consider if the housing conditions are similar.
Even though parental alienation is a reality, the Portuguese legal system has still not implemented clear legislation to address this matter. Individually, courts have decided on parental alienation cases, but the legal system does not have laws to deal with this rising problem.
In Portugal, parental abduction is considered the act of a child being taken to a place different from his habitual residence by one parent against the other parent’s will. As part of the European Union, Portugal has open borders with Spain, and from there, one can reach any country in the EU. As Portugal has many nationals working in other countries in the European Union and historic ties to Brazil, most international abductions happen to Brazil and the EU.
In Portugal, parental abduction is criminalized in its criminal code. Article 249 determines that removing a child and disregarding the legal agreement on parental responsibilities is a crime. This can lead to two years of jail time and a financial penalty of 240 days of basic wages. The law also criminalizes the act of making parental contact difficult and may lead to a court decision regarding the terms of legal custody and parental responsibility.
Portugal is part of the Hague Convention of the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. This treaty binds countries to commit to working together to resolve matters of children taken or held unlawfully in another country. The left-behind parent can request the Portuguese government support the return of the abducted child. Portuguese children taken unlawfully to another treaty member country, such as the USA, might also be subject to a return request.
The PortugueseCentral Authority (PCA) for the Hague Abduction Convention is the Directorate-General of Social Reintegration (Direção-Geral de Reinserção e Serviços Prisionais).
Portuguese law does not explicitly address parental alienation, as do other Portuguese-speaking countries such as Brazil. Even though parental alienation is a problem in Portugal, legislation on this matter is not specific. That does not, however, mean that a parent who suffers from alienation from their son or daughter cannot ask for intervention from the courts.
When one of the parents indicates that parental alienation is happening, the judge might ask for a court evaluation. A court-appointed specialist meets the involved parties and produces a report. The report must cover the psychological and social aspects of the situation. At this moment, especially if abuse is present, the court-appointed specialist might speak to the minor.
Still Portugal must do more to protect children from parental alienation. When signs of parental alienation show up, the family courts must quickly evaluate the situation and provide the victim – especially the child – with psychological support.
Some measures can help protect your child from parental abduction, especially in high conflict divorces:
What to do if your child is missing?
Thanks to Leonardo Futuro for the contribution in producing this country page.