Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Parental Abduction: the profoundest of parental alienation

Family abduction is perhaps the most absolute form of parental alienation. Not only is the child removed from a loved and loving parent, they may not ever see that parent again. In the US, nearly 250,000 kidnappings are reported each year, of which more than 75% are perpetrated by someone known to the child and some 20% are not located for months or years. That's about 37,000 children, per year. In some cases, the abduction is international - the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in the USA has nearly 1,400 cases on its books, both into and out of the country.

MSNBC reports on a couple of cases. One in which the children were not found for two years, one of whom had been abandoned in a hotel room. Another, international, where the mother told her son that his father and grandparents had been killed in a car accident while she maintained an affair with the father's best friend. This "friend", a priest, persuaded the father to fund his repeated visits to her by claiming he was hunting for them.

Some cases involve multiple adbuctions and re-abductions. Many involve repeated relocations and name changes to avoid detection. All are tragedies, with long lasting effects on the victims - both the children and the left behind parents. Some grown-up abductee's stories can be found on Take Root, their pain is obvious.

Recovery from abduction can also be traumatic, especially if it has been some time, and few law enforcement agencies are equipped to make it any easier on the children. What is a child to think who has been told their father is dead, or their mother doesn't love them any more, and they have lived another life for years only to be whisked off one day to find that it was all a lie and they have been sought desperately all the time?

Sometimes, the abductor may be fleeing abuse, but far more often - in some 80% of cases - the motivations are much more malign: selfishness, anger or vengence on the other parent and nothing to do with concern for the children. Why else abandon one in a hotel room? Nevertheless, the abductor may try to excuse themselves with unjustifiable claims that they did it for the children.

And what of the "left behind parent"? Weeks, months, years or a lifetime of distress and worry, ruinous search campaigns and, even once the children are found, perhaps nothing can be done. If child abduction is the worst form of parental alienation, then international child abduction ratchets the agony up still another level. Finding the child and seeking his or her return is now a matter of dealing with two country's legal systems.

Josef Cannon of LA found his abducted daughter in Ireland and obtained an order for her return under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. In response, the mother disappeared again with the daughter assuming a different name & identity. By the time she was found again, the courts determined that the daughter had "settled" in her new home and refused to return her.

The Hague Convention is the international law, signed by 56 countries, which provides for the return of children illegally removed from one country to another. It is written to try to cover the broad differences in child custody laws found in various countries, but it is therefore subject to broad interpretation by the individual countries and particular instances in which it is applied. Moreover, it is applied in those countries to which the children are taken, not from which they are taken, and those countries may have attitudes and cultural prejudices which do not reflect those of the other. Nevertheless, for now, the Hague is the only remedy there is.

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