The Federal Office of Justice (BfJ) is the German Central Authority under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (Hague Child Abduction Convention). In this function, it supports those affected in asserting a claim for the return of unlawfully abducted or retained children. The current figures from 2023 for the BfJ are now available.

Federal Office of Justice publishes new figures from 2023 on cross-border child abductions[1]

Objectives of the Hague Child Abduction Convention

The aim of the Hague Child Abduction Convention is to protect children from the detrimental consequences of wrongful removal to or retention in another Contracting State. Children who have been abducted should be returned to their previous country of habitual residence as quickly as possible, unless certain exceptions apply. The relevant civil law claim must be asserted in the country of abduction. The decision on the return of the child is the responsibility of the competent authorities in the country of abduction, which are usually courts. However, this judicial return procedure is not a custody procedure. In principle, the courts in the state of the child’s previous habitual residence are responsible for deciding questions of custody and, if applicable, further questions of child custody law that go beyond the mere return of the child.

The role of the Federal Office of Justice: counselling and support

Under certain conditions, the Hague Child Abduction Convention gives those affected a right under civil law to the return of the abducted child. The Federal Office of Justice can provide free counselling and support under the Hague Child Abduction Convention at the request of the person concerned. It thus assumes an intermediary function between Germany and abroad. However, the involvement of the BfJ is not mandatory. If a child is abducted to another contracting state, the parent left behind can apply to the BfJ for assistance in returning the child. Conversely, the BfJ is authorised to act in and out of court for applicants from other contracting states in Germany.

Figures for the year 2023

In 2023, the BfJ recorded a total of 527 new cases under the Hague Child Abduction Convention. Of these, 437 cases (83%) were proceedings for the return of a child and 90 cases (17%) were contact proceedings. Germany is the country with the third most cases under the Convention worldwide after the USA and the United Kingdom. It is predominantly the mothers who are the deprived parent.

Of the 437 proceedings for the return of a child, 236 relate to child abductions from Germany to another contracting state and 201 to child abductions from another contracting state to Germany. The most significant countries in terms of numbers are Ukraine (43), Turkey (38) and Poland (35). Turkey is the most important partner state for outgoing proceedings to another contracting state (29). For incoming procedures from abroad, Ukraine (33) is in first place, followed by Poland (17).

2023 figures in summary

Important note on the number of cases from the BfJ

With regard to the number of cases, it should be noted that the BfJ, as the German Central Authority, can provide advice and support, but the involvement of the Central Authorities is not mandatory under the Convention. The BfJ states that it is therefore not possible to provide total figures on cross-border child abductions. Also, only child abductions between contracting states to the Convention are recorded, not in relation to non-contracting states.

Furthermore, this is a purely civil law convention. It therefore does not cover the criminal law aspects of child abduction, particularly in the context of Section 235 of the German Criminal Code (“StGB”).


Paradigm Family Law have a team of experienced and highly recommended divorce lawyers to help guide you through the process of divorce, just waiting to hear from you.

If you would like more details on this or want to discuss your family law matter, please do not hesitate to contact James, Frank, or Evelyn. Paradigm Family Law offers a free initial consultation with a top rated divorce lawyer and our fixed fee solutions cover financial proceedings from start to finish. You can call us on 01904 217225 or email us to [email protected].