Rahul was just a few months old when he was “abducted” by his father and taken from India to the US, alleges his mother Soniya. That was two years back. Since then Soniya says she has had no access to her son. Her anguish and love for her son finds expression in a song that she has penned and composed for him. But the song titled “Na Rukenge” or We Won’t Stop, can be symbolic of the struggle that every left behind parent who has had his or her child “abducted” by an estranged spouse is fighting for their parental rights. “My son was abducted twice, once from India to the US and then in 2015 from the US back to India,” alleges Soniya, adding that she is fighting legal battles in both countries to be reunited with her son.
India does not recognise parental child abduction as an offence. Nor is it a signatory of the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which is a multilateral treaty that seeks to “protect children from the harmful effects of abduction and retention across international boundaries by providing a procedure to bring about their prompt return”.
Faced with an increasing number of such cases, however, the ministry of women and child development will meet on Friday to discuss India’s stand on the treaty. “Those to be present at the meeting include officials from the ministries of Women and Child Development, home affairs and external affairs, two high court judges, a few independent lawyers, representatives of non-government organisations and some affected parents,” says a source in the Ministry of Women and Child Development.
The meeting, says the source, is not to take an immediate decision on whether India should sign the treaty, but to listen to different opinions and try to find a solution. India’s original reason for not signing the treaty was because the government felt that most cases of child removal are committed by women trying to escape a bad or abusive marriage in another country and criminalising this and forcing her to return to the country of habitual residence would add to her problems.
But in the absence of laws, a case of abduction becomes a custody battle here, says US-resident Rakesh Agarwal, who alleges that his son was “abducted” by his wife in 2012. Not only is it time-consuming, but “decision is dependent on the discretion of the judge,” says Deepti Khanna, whose daughter was allegedly “abducted” by her husband in 2014.
All these parents now have their hopes pinned on the meeting today. “India not being a signatory to the Convention has encouraged people like my husband to abuse the legal system. Parental child abduction should be a punishable offence,” says Soniya.
The meeting is the hot topic of conversation on social media between parents fighting to be reunited with their children. Their only peeve point is that they were not allowed a sufficient participation in the meeting. “We have been asked to email or tweet our views. How is it possible to put our feelings in a tweet of 140 characters. Why couldn’t we have been asked to participate via a video conference,” questions Sunita Singh, an engineer in the US who alleges that her son was “abducted” by her husband and parents-in-law in 2015.
- India is among the top ten countries to which children abducted from UK are being taken by the abducting parent.
- A 2013 report found that between 2003 and 2013 the number of parental child abduction cases have doubled in UK.
- India is number two on the list of countries to which children wrongfully removed from the US are being taken.
- According to US government data, there were more than 80 cases of parental child abduction cases from the US to India.
- In seventy per cent of cases of parental child abduction from the UK, it is the mother who removes the child.
- The 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction seeks to protect children from the harmful effects of abduction and retention across international boundaries by providing a procedure to bring about their prompt return.
- The Law Commission of India has said that India should become a signatory of the Convention.