Some experts say that the rise in inter-country marriages is increasing the need for tougher action to protect children caught between feuding parents after a marriage break down.
There are some existing protections: Australia is a party to the ‘Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction’ which mediates international custody disputes. Under these agreements, if a parent unlawfully takes a child overseas they can be ordered back to the country of residence so that the local courts can figure out what to do.
However, if a child is taken to a country that isn’t a signatory to the convention (including Japan, Lebanon and China) it’s extraordinarily difficult for the other parent to get them back. And even if the country is a signatory, it’s not always possible to locate the child and the abducting parent.
In desperation, some parents are bypassing authorities and hiring a ‘retriever’ – similar to a private investigator – to help find their missing child.
Insight asks why and how parents are abducting their children and looks at whether tightening the laws would have any effect.
Aayesha says she hasn’t seen her three children since they were abducted by their father nearly four years ago. She says they were originally taken to their father’s home country of Algeria. Aayesha says she flew there twice but each time was unable to see them. She says she doesn’t know where they are now and has come to terms with the fact that she probably won’t see them until they’re older. Algeria isn’t part of the Hague Convention and Aaeysha says it’s virtually impossible to get children back when this is the case.
“Mary” took her 6 year old son to her home country of Ireland in 2008. She says she had no other choice because her husband was sexually abusing her son and the Family Court was about to give him unsupervised visitation rights. She was found through the Hague Convention and ordered to return to Australia for custody hearings. She was then allowed to return to Ireland with her son.
Keith Schafferius has specialised in child retrievals for more than three decades. He says his work has taken him to countries including Poland, Yemen, Mexico and the Philippines. Before he agrees to take on a case, he says he first investigates the aggrieved parent’s background and does exhaustive checks to determine the validity of their case.
Matt is in Japan and says he is trying to get access to his two sons. He says his ex-wife moved back there with their children in 2009. He says it’s impossible to get shared custody in Japan because that arrangement is not formally recognised. He says Japan, which hasn’t signed the Hague Convention, has become a safe haven for parents who abduct their own children after a relationship has broken down.
Vincent Papaleo is a Clinical Psychologist who has spent 25 years in the family court system. He says child abduction can be considered child abuse. He says abducting can have a long lasting effect on a child.
Tuesday at 8.30pm on SBS ONE.