Families Need Fathers
Rise in Child Abductions to Non-Hague Convention Countries Indicative of Wider Failures of the Family Justice System Concerning Relocation
HAGUE CONVENTION DOES NOT GUARANTEE RETURN: REFORM REQUIRED TO PREVENT MORE CHILDREN LOSING CONTACT WITH THEIR PARENTS
Families Need Fathers was saddened to see that the number of abductions to countries who have not ratified the 1980 Hague Convention on International Child Abduction has risen from 146 to 161 between 2009/10 and 2010/11. However, it would be wrong to think that the Hague Convention ensures that children can be returned quickly to their home country.
The approach of the family justice system to abduction and relocation cases is in need of an urgent overhaul if it is to protect the rights of children to maintain meaningful relationships with both parents. Ken Sanderson, CEO of Families Need Fathers, commented, “Child abduction destroys lives. Children are denied the love and support of a parent, and the parent left behind is placed in the intolerable position of not knowing where their children are, whether they are safe or when, if ever, they will see them again. Such abductions cause irreparable harm to individuals, families and their communities.
Of course, the international community needs to work hard to encourage more countries to sign the Hague Convention and address international child abduction with the urgency it deserves. We would be doing these families a disservice though if we were to consider the current implementation of the Convention amongst states that have ratified the treaty as a panacea to these problems. Relocation cases currently take far too long to be processed, during which time irreparable damage can be done to the parent-child relationship. Additionally, the costs of recovering abducted children are prohibitively expensive for most ordinary people to pursue, particularly where cases are dragged out over months, or even years. Access to justice must be open to all, and not simply those who can afford it.”
Ken Sanderson continued, “Our own legal system’s approach is in drastic need of an overhaul to prevent the continuing damage of child relocation. This issue goes beyond the Hague Convention. Payne V Payne, the case law which determines the courts’ decisions on relocation cases, gives undue weight to the desire of the parent wishing to move over that of the right of the child to maintain a meaningful relationship with both parents, in breach of the United Nations Convention on the Right of the Child. Indeed, even Lord Justice Wall has stated there is a “perfectly respectable argument” for this proposition. Our approach to relocation is outdated, ill-conceived, and will continue to do significant harm to family life until it is reformed.”
Michael Robinson of The Custody Minefield said “International parental child abduction is a growing problem. Our experience is that international treaties meant to ensure a child’s return are fine in theory, but in practice, often fail to see a child returned.
The government is well aware of the harmful impact on children of forced removal abroad, yet fails to address this in the current Family Justice Review. Despite assurances to me from Sir Tom McNally, Minister of State for Justice, that the review would look at this area of law, David Norgrove, the panel’s chair has affirmed in writing that this is not within their remit. The government must stop ignoring significant and identified risks to child welfare from international relocation.
Whether unlawful child abduction or court approved relocation, the effects on the child are the same. A dramatic change in living arrangements, the loss of contact with one parent and their wider family, change in school and loss of friends are likely to impact on a child’s psychological, emotional and educational development. We presented scientific evidence for this at Westminster last November. The government still does nothing but prevaricate.”