25 June 2003
On 1 April 2003, 14 European Union Member States, Australia and Switzerland signed the Hague Convention of 19 October 1996 on Jurisdiction, Applicable Law, Recognition, Enforcement and Co-operation in Respect of Parental Responsibility and Measures for the Protection of Children. The Netherlands had already signed the Convention in 1997. The ceremony took place at the Peace Palace in The Hague, in the presence of Minister of Justice of the United Kingdom. On this same occasion, the United Kingdom signed the Hague Convention of 13 January 2000 on the International Protection of Adults.
This ceremony is an important milestone in the building of international co-operation for the protection of children at risk in cross-frontier situations. With the opening up of national borders, ease of travel and the breaking down of cultural barriers, the international displacement of children has become commonplace in the modern world, resulting for instance from broken relationships within transnational families, wars, natural disasters, and cross-border trafficking. The 1996 Convention addresses legal issues related to these transnational situations, such as disputes over custody and relocation, and the importance of maintaining contact between the child and both parents.
The 1996 Convention seeks to avoid legal and administrative conflicts and to build a structure for effective international co-operation in child protection matters between the different systems. The Convention provides a remarkable opportunity for the building of bridges between legal systems having diverse cultural or religious backgrounds. It is of great significance that one of the first States to ratify the Convention was Morocco, whose legal system is set in the Islamic tradition. In addition, several Central and Eastern European countries, Monaco and Ecuador are already Parties to the Convention.
The 1996 Convention supplements the practical machinery already provided by both the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, under which over 70 States now co-operate together to protect children from the harmful effects of their wrongful removal or retention abroad, and the 1993 Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption, designed to regulate intercountry adoption to protect the interests of the children concerned, now in force in more than 50 countries.
The 2000 Convention on the International Protection of Adults, which was also signed by the United Kingdom on 1 April, provides for a similar system of co-operation concerning incapacitated persons. The increasing tendency for retired persons to move to other countries, leaving the bulk of their property behind, sometimes acquiring a home in the new country and making arrangements in advance for their care or representation in the event of incapacity, has made it essential to have clear rules specifying which national authorities are competent to take any necessary protective measures. The 2000 Hague Convention addresses this and other issues.