Child Abduction: Abduction law to punish fly-away dads and mothers

Stephanie Peatling, September 10, 2011

TOUGH laws to stop parents abducting and taking their children overseas are being considered by the federal government.

The Family Law Council has told the Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, new criminal charges need to be created to punish parents.

”The [existing] legislation does not cover the situation where a parent takes a child overseas with the other parent’s consent or in accordance with a court order, but subsequently retains the child overseas beyond the agreed or authorised period,” said the council chairwoman, Associate Professor Helen Rhoades.

It also ”does not cover the situation where children are taken overseas without the other parent’s consent and no parenting orders have been sought from, or granted by, the courts. The question that arises is whether a parent’s behaviour in either or both of these circumstances should be criminalised.”

About 125 children are taken out of Australia each year, says the Attorney-General’s Department. In 2007, 147 were abducted overseas and in 2008 it was 138.The number fell to 95 in 2009 but rose to 125 last year. Under the Family Law Act, international parental child abduction carries a maximum three-year jail sentence.

The Family Law Council has also identified a loophole in the law because it does not cover situations in which children are taken overseas without the other parent’s consent but there is no involvement by the courts. This happens when the parents are still in a relationship. A parliamentary committee is examining whether tougher sanctions need to be introduced. It will report to the government next month, which is expected to respond later this year.

As many as 12,000 children are on an Australian Federal Police watch list as being potentially in danger of being taken out of the country. But the AFP believes the true figure is much lower because the names are not automatically removed once a child turns 18.

Angela Lynch, a committee member of Women’s Legal Services Australia, said special consideration needed to be made for parents trying to escape abusive relationships and parents who had moved away from their extended families.

”In our experience, many women flee home to family support when a separation occurs,” she said, adding: ”It is not in the public interest that such situations are criminally prosecuted. There are links with the need for domestic family laws to be accessible to enable women to have a choice to apply to a domestic court for international child relocation rather than fleeing home.”

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One thought on “Child Abduction: Abduction law to punish fly-away dads and mothers

  1. Note: the number of abductions quoted by the Attorney-General’s Department is the number of Children Abducted to Hague Convention Signatory Countries only. This is the number reported by the Australian Commonwealth Central Authority, the Department responsible for Hague cases only. The actual number of abductions is not known or reported. It is a shame the figure is estimated to be approximately double. If your child is abducted to a Non Hague Country you then contact DFAT.
    My son has been abducted from Australia to Japan. Let’s keep these changes to law coming!!

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