Ashley Hall for The World Today,
ABC November 23, 2009, 5:45 pm
Source - Seven News report
The Family Law Reform Association of New South Wales is calling on the Federal Government to make it a crime for a parent to take a child out of Australia without the other parent's consent.
About 150 children are taken overseas without permission each year, and the association says it is a form of child abuse.
It says the number of children affected is alarming and the law reformers have written to the Federal Attorney-General, asking him to criminalise the abductions.
The abductions are so common there is now an acronym for them - International Parental Child Abduction (IPCA).
Deputy Commissioner of the New South Wales Fire Brigades, Ken Thompson, had his son abducted in April 2008, and is now spokesman for the Coalition of Parents of Abducted Children.
Mr Thompson said despite his wife exhibiting strange behaviour in late 2007, he had no inclination she would flee with their son.
Ken Thompson saidIn April 2008, my son Andrew was kidnapped from Australia by his mother.
They left the country, went to Singapore, then to Germany and they since disappeared without any trace. I just never imagined anything like this would happen.
Part way through the court process, his wife fled the country with their child.
Ken saidMy wife was behaving very, very strangely in December 2007.
She was preventing me from having any contact with Andrew whatsoever.
She then started to make some very, very serious allegations. I then took her to court to be able to resume my relationship with my son and to have her allegations investigated.
Because she left during a court case, Mr Thompson was able to convince police she had breached the Family Law Act, enabling him to get some help.
Child abuse agencies,Mr Thompson and the Coalition of Parents of Abducted Children have asked the Attorney-General to make international child abduction a crime, likening it to child abuse.
Ken saidBecause a crime hadn't been committed under the Crimes Act, there was a lot of uncertainty about what the authorities could actually do, and that is when I realised there is a massive hole in our legislation.
The vast majority of children who are abducted from Australia are abducted outside the Family Court process and in those cases, thorough investigations can't be done because no crime has been committed.
These are complex issues But Helen Freris, the international parental child abduction service coordinator at International Social Service Australia, has warned against criminalising such abductions.
Ken saidIf it was a financial crime, property crime, passports would have been cancelled, Interpol alerts would have been issued, telephone taps would probably have been put in place, but because it is not a crime, or not seen as a crime under the Crimes Act, none of that could be done.
In my view, It doesn't matter which way you cut this. If you abduct a child from a country and remove it from its parents, its other parent and its extended family and its culture, it is one of the most extreme forms of child abuse that you can inflict upon a child.
So far the Federal Attorney-General has not commented.
Ms Freris saidThe current framework, based on the 1980 Hague Convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction, is a better way to deal with the problem.
Criminalising an event like IPCA could perhaps result in the criminal law system having to deal with highly complex and emotive issues between people that are better dealt with in the family law system.
And as for the deterrent, the concerns we have would be that it might in fact cause parents and children to go underground, and it would be ultimately not beneficial to children to have a parent criminalised.
Wayne Butler of the Shared Parenting Council saidThere was a significant amount of work put into the submission, including sections relating to the blatant misrepresenting and falsifying of documents to enable a parent to leave the country on false passports, issues around a parent leaving the country while proceedings were on going and the appalling lack of accountability for bringing these delinquent parents back to Australia on the part of the Justice department and related ministers.
If this case is not appalling enough then you only need to look at the Russell Wood case in recent years to name just one despicable case, where the justice department did not even respond to significant correspondences and passed the matter from one department to the other until the children were no longer an issue in the fathers life, effectively having been erased for ever due to bungling Government departments and related agencies, who in the end, had every opportunity to have those children remain in Australia. In that case even the persons acting for the mother (Who live in Australia) as the father and forging the Australian passports got off with not even a hearing to be had.
If Ms Freris says the current framework, based on the 1980 Hague Convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction, is a better way to deal with the problem then she is in some alternate reality and should perhaps have some compassion and empathy for the hundred plus cases a year where one parent obliterates a child's involvement from the other parents life, through what can only be described at best as kidnaping.
Ms Fries says criminalising an event like IPCA could perhaps result in the criminal law system having to deal with highly complex and emotive issues between people that are better dealt with in the family law system. Well if that's what it takes to get these kids back then what's the problem? Perhaps shifting these "criminal" cases to the Family Court is the answer. The FCoA a competent authority to deal with these matters and needs to be given more powers to bring these delinquent parents to the table back in Australia. Weasel words from Ms Fries do nothing to comfort the hundreds of children a year who are removed from Australia and no longer see their other parent.
The LFAA, DiDS, SPCA and others who have endorsed this document to the Attorney General are at least standing up to be counted in this ugly matter and we would expect nothing less than a serious review of the contents and discussion at the Heads of Attorney Generals next conference.