Inter-parental child abduction

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Families who work in a country other that the country of their birth face unique problems if their relationship breaks down. One of the primary reactions is to return to one’s family and country of origin with the children of the relationship. If the other parent is not party to this arrangement, or if there is no court order to this effect, a parent taking children from one country to another may, whether inadvertently or not, be committing child removal or inter-parental child abduction.

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Why should I be aware of this?

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Children abducted by one of the parents are removed from environments familiar to them and suddenly isolated from their extended families, friends, and classmates.

The parents abducting the children may relocate them frequently and/or take them out of school unexpectedly, making them miss months or years of school. With little chance of making new friends, and having no other relatives, their only close relationship may be with the taking parent. They may even be separated from their siblings during the abduction.

The abducted children may also be fed with false stories that the other parent is dead, does not want them, or has not tried to get them back.

Children who have gone through the act of parental abduction, are more likely to exhibit a variety of psychological and social handicaps, such as:

  • Depression
  • Loss of community
  • Loss of stability, security, and trust
  • Excessive fearfulness, even of ordinary occurrences
  • Loneliness
  • Anger
  • Helplessness
  • Disruption in identity formation; and
  • Fear of abandonment.

How does this affect me?

Parental child abduction affects some of society’s most vulnerable individuals. Such abductions have substantial long-term consequences for both the abducted child and the left-behind parent.

According to recent statistics, the number of divorce cases and custody disputes has increased ever since the advent of globalization and technological development and accompanying busy lifestyle and work culture.

All about inter-parental child abduction

According to research reports, abducted children often experience a range of problems including anxiety, eating problems, nightmares, mood swings, sleep disturbances, aggressive behavior, resentment, guilt, and fearfulness. They may continue to struggle with identity issues or with their own personal relationships and parenting even after they become adults.

Even after children are reunited with the left-behind parent, they may find that they no longer have a relationship with that parent or even a language in common. They may be distrustful of the left-behind parent and question why that parent did not try harder to get them back. It becomes worse if they find that the left-behind parent has remarried and there is new, unfamiliar step-parent and siblings. Children who were abducted while very young may not even remember life with the left-behind parent.

The left-behind parent

Left-behind parents encounter substantial psychological, emotional, and financial problems. They have a sense of helplessness as they have no idea how to find their children. The left-behind parent may face unfamiliar legal, cultural, and linguistic barriers if their children are taken across international borders. He/she may also lack the financial resources to travel abroad and to visit their children overseas.

They are beset with a wide range of emotions including betrayal, anger against the other parent, anxiety, sleeplessness, and severe depression. The financial pressures of fighting abduction only add to the anxiety.

International parental child abduction

With increased cross-border migration there are much more multi-national matrimonial relationships. This has added to the problem of ‘inter-parental child removal’ when non-resident parents in a country remove their children to their own countries in violation of a foreign court custody order or in infringement of the other spouse’s parental rights.

The Hague convention on civil aspects of international child abduction, 1980, a multilateral treaty developed by the Hague Conference on Private International Law, provides an expeditious method to return a child from one member nation to another.

The Hague Convention has 80 nation member signatories. In countries which are not signatories, there is no international instrument that can be invoked and the only remedy with the aggrieved parent would be to invoke the national law of the foreign country where the child is wrongfully retained. But these are very difficult processes due to tough visa formalities, high traveling expenses, expensive litigation costs and difficult foreign court procedures.

What can I do?

There are no foolproof warning signs or psychological profiles for abduction risk. But there are some indicators which you will do well not to ignore, such as:

  • If your partner has previously abducted or threatened to abduct the child. Threats could include verbal threats to kidnap the child so that “you will never see the child again.
  • There are also some less direct threats which you can learn through casual conversation with your child.
  • Be cautious if one of the parents has strong emotional or cultural ties to the country of origin.
  • Is engaged in planning activities, such as quitting a job; selling a home; terminating a lease; closing a bank account or liquidating other assets; hiding or destroying documents; or securing a passport, a birth certificate, or school or medical records.
  • If there is a history of marital instability, lack of cooperation with the other parent, domestic violence, or child abuse.
  • Reacted with jealousy or felt threatened by the other parent’s remarriage or new romantic involvement.
  • If there is a criminal record.

References:

  • JURISDICTIONS IN INTERPARENTAL CHILD CUSTODY DISPUTES
  • THE HUMAN AND SOCIAL COST OF INTERNATIONAL PARENTAL CHILD ABDUCTION
  • Cross-border child removal issues
  • Resource Guide on International Parental Kidnapping