AUSTRALIA AND CHILD ABDUCTION: Some Facts
International Social Service published a report in February 2005 on international parental child abduction in Australia and called for the establishment of a national support service.
There are approximately 170 reported cases of child abduction both into and out of Australia per year. This critical issue is however, not widely known or publicized throughout the general community. The ISS network comes into contact with an increasing number of cases, due predominantly to more family breakdown and the ease of international travel. The Federal Attorney-Generals Department has recently provided seed funding to enable ISS to undertake a short term research project into International Child Abduction with a central aim of identifying appropriate support models.
The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, of which Australia is a signatory, has as two central aims. Firstly, the restoration of the pre-abduction status quo, and secondly, to deter parents from crossing borders in search of a more sympathetic court. While these aims have significant merit, there is a perception that the Convention, operating within its legal framework, does not always focus on the welfare of the child as the paramount consideration. A key aim of the project is to identify mechanisms, apart from legal ones, which will provide the most effective support and alleviate the trauma, anxiety and powerlessness experienced by the parties.
Currently, families affected by child abduction are directed to the International Family Law Section of the Federal Attorney-Generals Department. The focus of assistance therefore tends to be on the legal and practical aspects of recovering and returning children. Unlike some other countries, Australia does not have a specialized service which is able to provide holistic support to the parties. A key component of the ISS Project is to develop a support service model which would meet the needs of, in the first instance, the left behind parent, but also the child/children and other parent. There are instances where the child has been abducted to Australia and there is a need to support the foreign left-behind parent when visiting Australia for court proceedings, to attempt resolution and to have contact with the child.
The common thread in all these cases is the sense of powerlessness experienced by the left behind parent whose right to access to the child/children often becomes impossible. In these instances, the temptation to resort to drastic steps may become overwhelming.
The overriding concern in any of these cases is to protect the child from harm. Children who have been abducted are often physically and almost always, psychologically harmed by the experience. The children are firstly dealing with the trauma of the breakdown of their parents relationship. They are then removed from all or much that is familiar to them. However resilient the child, the experience is confusing, frightening and in the long term, damaging.
ISS Australia is aware from experience that it can be extremely difficult attempting to negotiate the return of a child from a country with law and order issues and political unrest. Even where the courts in these countries vote in favor of the left behind parent, the local authorities do not always cooperate for fear of reprisal.
For further information about child abduction in Australia, including the Convention, state/territory legislation, general information and useful links can be found at the Attorney-Generals website, child abduction section: