France Backtracks on Law Allowing Kids to Leave Country Without Consent

French children walk past World War II veteran paratroopers as they deliver floral arrangements to dignitaries who will lay them at a war memorial in 2011 during a ceremony in Sainte Mere Eglise, France. Photo: Michael J. MacLeod / Wikimedia Commons

PARIS — France’s government has quietly backtracked on a policy that allowed children to leave the country without their parents’ permission, after years of complaints from families of radicalized teens who left to join extremist groups.

The new rules requiring parental permission go into effect Sunday, five years after the government lifted the restriction with little fanfare, citing a need to streamline bureaucracy.

At the time, the war in Syria was picking up and France became Europe’s largest source of recruits in the war zone, notably for the Islamic State group. Families said they were blindsided when their teenage sons and daughters were allowed to pass through border control no questions asked and even leave Europe’s passport-free zone for Turkey.

“We have to do everything we can to prevent minors from going into the terrorist zone,” lawmaker Patrick Hetzel told France 3.


But critics say the reversal comes far too late.


Samia Maktouf, a lawyer for two families that sued the government over their teenagers’ departures for Syria, has called for this policy shift for years.

“Unfortunately, they’re taking action rather late,” she told The Associated Press. “Four hundred French minors are now at the gates of Hell.”

Story: Lori Hinnant