Child abduction laws set for overhaul

Source: Sky news Australia

A Senate inquiry has been told laws surrounding international parental child abductions must be changed.

Lauchlan Leishman and Ken Thompson fronted a Senate committee in Canberra on Friday, arguing that the system surrounding international child abductions needs a desperate overhaul.

Mr Leishman, whose son was taken out of the country in 2008 and has not been returned, labelled it a ‘long, painful and exhaustive process’ that had come at great financial cost.

‘Some people say it’s a civil matter between the parents, (but) the reality is that the child has been abducted,’ he told the inquiry.

‘And if I stole someone else’s child I would be hounded by the criminal justice system.

‘In our view, it’s no different.’

In Australia, international child abductions are mostly considered civil matters, with returns negotiated depending on where the child is taken and if the parents are currently before the Family Court.

In the strongest case scenario, if the child is taken to a country that is signatory to the Hague Convention and the parents are before the Family Court, technically child abductions are a criminal act.

But Mr Thompson, whose son was also taken in 2008 and returned this year, said the Australian Federal Police (AFP) often had its hands tied, and prevented from acting without the consent of the signatory country.

It will only request Interpol alerts if an arrest warrant has been issued for the abducting parent, and that can only be done when the ‘left behind parent’ requests one through the Family Court.

Even then, abducting parents had no problem getting around.

Mr Thompson’s story made headlines after he cycled 6500km around Europe in a bid to find his son, leading to a tip-off that the youngster was in the Netherlands.

The former NSW deputy fire chief said the system was full of holes and provided inadequate protection for what was ‘one of the most extreme acts of abuse a parent can inflict upon their own child’.

He noted that if a child is abducted to a country that hasn’t signed up to the Hague Convention, or if his or her whereabouts were unknown, left behind parents were basically on their own.

Spending up to $100,000 was not unusual, and parents sometimes had to fight for financial assistance or even to halt child support payments.

Mr Thompson also urged for abductions to be made a crime across the board, if only to empower the police to act, rather than as punishment.

‘I’m not advocating for a moment that international parental child abduction should be a crime for the purpose of prosecuting and imprisoning a parent – that’s last resort,’ Mr Thompson said.

The Family Law Council believes parental abductions shouldn’t be made a general criminal offence, arguing international courts might be less likely to order parents back to Australia.

It did however recommend that wrongful retentions – where a child is lawfully taken overseas but not returned – have the same criminality as wrongful removals.

The Senate inquiry is due to report by October 31.

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