Source: The Courier-Mail, June 14, 2011
RAISING AWARENESS: Ken Thompson cycled 6500km across Europe in a desperate bid to find his son. Picture: AP Source: AP
HUNDREDS of desperate mums and dads are fighting to have their kids returned to Australia amid the “silent epidemic” of international parental abduction. Three children are taken from our shores each week and the parents left behind face trauma, guilt and financial stress as they take on the emotional, complex and often futile task of having their children returned.
International help is available under the Hague Convention for the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. However, the process can be largely fruitless if the fleeing parent takes the child to an unco-operative country such as Brazil or Chile, or a country not yet party to the treaty such as Japan. Last year, 125 children were wrongfully removed from Australia to another Hague Convention country, with 74 returned. Another 29 were abducted to non-convention countries. These are the cases authorities know of, with family dispute experts saying the true number could be double official figures.
Attorney-General Robert McClelland told The Courier-Mail parental child abductions were “not uncommon”. “I think each and every MP who’s been here for a while would have seen an example in their electorate,” he said. The scale of the issue has been widely reflected in social media, with hundreds of Facebook pages and social networking campaigns dedicated to finding parentally abducted children.
The Courier-Mail has spoken to five parents – including four Queenslanders – who are fighting for their kids’ return. A Townsville-born dad, who lives in the US, has vowed to get his two-year-old son back from Brazil or “die trying” after his wife of seven years took their boy to Rio de Janeiro for a two-week holiday and never returned.
“Child abduction for the left-behind parent is like waterboarding,” he said. “The frustration, the worry, the missing each day of his life is all-consuming.” In separate cases spanning seven years, four fathers said their former Japanese spouses had abducted their kids after the Family Court granted the mothers permission to take the children to Japan for a holiday. George, from the Gold Coast, said he lived solely to see his two sons again after they were abducted to Japan in 2004. “To be honest, I even got so depressed for two years, I nearly killed myself,” he said. “The only thing (left-behind parents) can do is support each other.
No one’s helping us.” Daniel, from Sydney, said his former wife abducted their two-year-old son to Japan last year, after they separated, because she disagreed with Australian custody laws. “That was not how she wanted to live her life. It just didn’t fit into her plans,” he said. International Social Service Australia national services manager Helen Freris said the ratio of mums and dads abducting children was roughly equal. “The two main reasons given are a belief it’s the only way to protect a child and the other overarching category involves revenge towards the other parent,” she said.
Whatever the motive, child abduction had long-term psychological impacts on the child and left-behind parent. “It can impact the child’s sense of safety, security and stability in their living arrangements,” Ms Freris said. “There are also the economic implications … initiating legal proceedings in the country where the child has been taken can be costly,” she said. Former NSW deputy fire chief Ken Thompson said he had experienced shock, disbelief, anxiety, depression and uncertainty when his six-year-old son Andrew was abducted in 2008.
The Sydney father – who raised awareness of the issue by cycling 6500km across Europe in a desperate bid to find his son – said parental abduction was “incredibly cruel” to children, as well as left-behind parents. “It’s recognised as one of the most extreme forms of child abuse because you’ve taken that child away from everything … and in a lot of cases they lose contact with both sides (of the family) because the parent’s in hiding,” he said. “The number of people who are damaged by this phenomenon is just extraordinary. “It’s not just the left-behind parent. “It’s the other family members, friends, colleagues. “Not knowing where your child is has got to be the worst thing you can possibly experience.” To other left-behind parents, Mr Thompson said: “You’ve just got to keep focused on finding the child and working through whatever legal processes are available to have the child returned. “You’ve also got to raise public awareness to the plight of the child.”