The Hague Convention: need of the hour

September 9, 2016


Throughout the world, the ‘best interests of the child’ is the gold standard by which courts make determinations on custody, visitation and relocation.

Parental Kidnapping Rescue abducted children recovery

A surge in transnational marriages has led to a corresponding surge in cases of international child abduction. In these cases one parent, unhappy with a court’s custody order, flees to another country with the child, and either attempts to have local courts issue a new custody order or simply goes into hiding with the child. There are never any winners in these heartbreaking cases; the children are denied the love and affection of both parents, and the parents spend years embroiled in venomous court battles.

To address the menace of child abduction, the international community formulated what is known as The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction in 1980. Through this instrument, member states agree to uphold existing custody orders from other jurisdictions, and to return children wrongfully removed from one country to another. The Hague Convention does recognise that in some cases a parent might be fleeing an abusive environment, resorting to abduction in an attempt to protect their child; local courts are given the authority to make appropriate determinations in these special cases. In a nutshell, The Hague Convention provides a reasonable remedy for the bad behaviour of parents engaging in the act of international child abduction.

International parental kidnapping cases have been quite prominent in media over the years, and protecting children is one benefit for Pakistan becoming a member of The Hague Convention. There is, however, another benefit that goes largely unnoticed by the authorities and media: by signing The Hague Convention, Pakistan will give courts throughout the world the confidence to allow law-abiding parents to relocate to Pakistan with
their children.

Throughout the world, the “best interests of the child” is the gold standard by which courts make determinations on custody, visitation and relocation. Given the trend of international marriages, courts have recognised that in many cases custodial parents may wish to move back to their home countries where they have family support, career opportunities, cultural ties, and facilities by which they can provide better lives for their children. However, before allowing an international relocation by one parent, the courts must be confident that the other parent will not be denied access to the children. The Hague Convention provides courts with this confidence.

pakistan Child Abduction

An alarming number of Pakistanis, mostly women, presently living abroad are denied the ability to move back home with their children because Pakistan is not a signatory to The Hague Convention. For the most part, Pakistani women move to foreign countries due to arranged marriages. When their marriages fall apart, these women who have no employable skills and limited finances find themselves abandoned by their spouses far from their families and homeland. To make matters worse, foreign courts will not allow them to move their children to Pakistan, leaving them with no choice but to live off the charity of others in foreign countries. The plight of these desperate Pakistani women and their children will undoubtedly improve when Pakistan becomes a member of The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

I hope Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Advisor to Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz take notice of such situation, and initiate the much needed step of becoming the member of The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. It is responsibility of the state to ensure justice for its citizens not only in the boundaries of the state and all over the world.

The Hague Convention does not alter any substantive rights. The Convention requires that a court in which a Hague Convention action is filed should not consider the merits of any underlying child custody dispute, but should determine only that country in which those issues should be heard. Return of the child is to the member country rather than specifically to the left-behind parent.

Until March this year, more than 94 countries including, United States, China, Germany, France, Canada and Australia are party to the convention, and even India has been the signatory of Convention since 2008.

Mr Prime Minister, when all our major neighbours and important countries of the world are the signatories to this important convention, why not Pakistan. Isn’t this a lack of interest in the welfare of overseas Pakistanis who send millions of dollars to Pakistan every year?

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