Tag Archives: children’s rights

BBC Radio 4: Focus on International Child Abduction

The BBC Radio 4 Face the Facts programme gives an introduction to international child abduction cases affecting parents in the UK. It focuses on signatories to the Hague Convention and on the difficulties in dealing with non-Hague Convention countries. The programme features stories of individual parents as well as legal experts on international child abduction – Lord Justice Thorpe and barrister Jacqueline Renton.

A recording of the programme is available here.

Advertisements

Update on the Grin Case: Petition to the US Secretary of State

There have been new developments in relation to the Grin case. A petition has been launched addressing US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in an effort to help bring home four American children abducted by their non-custodial mother and illegally taken to Russia. The children were living in Florence, Italy with their custodial father before they were abducted by their mother, who lost custody a year earlier when she was found to be psychologically unfit to be a parent.

The family is now urging the US State Department to help by working with the Russian Foreign Minister to read the court documents and understand the severity of the situation and to get these children safely back home to Italy. This petition is a desperate attempt to accelerate the process of returning the children from Russia.

You can sign the petition here.

Parental Rights and the Role of the Courts

In an ideal world, decisions regarding child custody would not have to be made in court. Sadly the reality in 10% of divorce cases, is that courts are forced to take a central role in deciding the future of the affected children. The process of deciding and managing custody cases is often lengthy and drawn out. Time is even more precious when children are involved, and stalling in the decision making can add ammunition to the negative effects of the break up.

In the UK, there has been an ongoing campaign to give further legal rights to  fathers in the UK. Recent proposals to amend the Childrens Act of 1989 were revealed by Ken Clarke yesterday, which would give divorced fathers increased rights to see their children. There is some debate as to whether this would really improve the situation for the affected children.  In Australia the introduction of the right to shared access for both parents caused long delays in custody cases, which can worsen the situation for the children involved. The problems encountered in Australia illustrate that it may not be the law that needs changing but the way the cases are handled.

David Norgrove, who chaired the  Family Justice Review  which was commissioned by the government and published last year, criticised the proposals for reform. The report concluded that the law should not be changed, after thoroughly examining the issue of shared custody. The courts in England and Wales maintain that they assess each case individually and that the welfare of the child takes top priority. The minority of divorce cases that do get heard in the courts are a highly conflicted group, with numerous problems. In these complex cases usually both parents feel unheard. Coming to an agreement regarding custody and shared parenting will not be accelerated by giving parents more rights but by helping them fulfil their responsibilities. Finding a situation that is best for the children is the primary aim in such a situation and should be resolved by trying to give the children a voice. These cases are often very complex, courts already struggle to find the best speedy solution, more legislation could further impair the process.

In the majority of the cases that do go to court, family courts rule in favour of the mother. Because of the conflicted nature of these custody battle, this can result in a proportion of these children having little or no contact with their father. According to the Office for National Statistics, only 8% of single parents in Britain are men. The assumption of the courts is influenced by a traditional image of the nuclear family – where the mother cares for the children and the father works full time. These roles do not necessarily apply to the modern household and the courts bias towards the mother is somewhat out of date.

Growing up without the father can be difficult, but this is not always the fault of the courts or the limited custody rights. There are fathers who make the effort to see their children and there are those that don’t. However they should give the fathers that are good parents and want to have a key role in bringing up their children the opportunity to do so. Both parents have a right to raise their children and to be good parents, whether they are together or not. David Norgrove stated:

“This issue affects the lives of hundreds of thousands of children and it would be negligent not [to consider all options]. It is also right that we continue to encourage fathers to take responsibility as equal parents and to be fully involved with their children from the outset.”

The Children Act 1989 focuses on an individual child and their unique needs, preferences and circumstances. The rights of the child rather than the parents rights should be central in dealing with these cases. The primary issue is the culture of the courts that take an old fashioned stance in dealing with custody cases, rather than the lack of existing laws. The fair  implementation of these laws along with the role of the courts and social services should ensure the child has regular access to both parents.

International Child Abduction – A Growing Legal Maze?

The recent case of Marianne Grin in Russia has drawn attention to international child abduction and the legal failings relating to these cases.  After losing custody, the mother of four took her children to Russia, from their home in Italy, and is refusing to return them to their father. Like many child abduction cases, it has an international dimension – the children have dual American/Russian citizenship and are Italian residents. As the complexities of international child abduction continue to grow, within an increasingly globalised world, there is a growing  need for laws to govern these issues arising from cross border relationships.

The Grin case is scarily similar to that of Elke Mellersh. Ms Mellersh abducted her children in the previous year and fled to Turkey, she then committed suicide after taking their lives in November 2011. She had disappeared along with her children, fearing they would be taken from her, after the German courts had declared her  mentally unstable, and had taken steps to revoke her custody. Like the Italian courts, the German courts strongly favour the mother in custody battles and it is not easy for the mother to lose custody. In Germany, women gain exclusive custody in almost 100% of cases where children are under the age of 6, and in cases with older children this drops no lower than 95%.

As in the Grin case, the reporting of the  story was radically different in Turkey, the ethnic home country of Ms Mellersh, than it was in the UK. Despite also being a German case, the story went largely unreported in Germany, where privacy laws prevent newspapers from covering suicide cases. Ms Mellersh, like Ms Grin, also appeared to be escaping from court rulings she disagreed with. In both cases, allegations of abuse levied against the father, and numerous other people, were proven by the courts to be unfounded. She was a German citizen with Turkish heritage, the children were dual nationals of both Germany and Britain. None of them had ever lived in Turkey, but like Grin she had tried to reinvent herself as a “persecuted mother” fleeing to her home country. She was portrayed as such in the Turkish media, which took a nationalist stance and sensationalised the case without addressing or seeking factual information.

The most painful thing about this case is the possibility that theirs deaths could have been prevented. Undoubtedly, there were huge failings in Germany and in Turkey, where the children had been kept illegally for some time before their deaths. What would have happened if their whereabouts was known earlier? Would the Turkish authorities have complied with both German and international laws to protect the children? Would the Turkish authorities have taken or attempted to take the necessary steps to ensure their safe return? There are several laws in place which applied to the Mellersh case, such as the Hague Convention Against Child Abduction. The difference in the Grin case is that the whereabaouts of the children is known and these laws can still be enforced. Turkey which is also part of the Hague Convention is notably slow at complying with the convention effectively in such cases. Russia can still prove that it is able to implement relevant legislation and uphold the convention and it’s values by returning the children to Italy.

In his article in the Huffington Post, Harris Silver raised the issue of the importance of laws within and between countries? I agree that these laws are hugely important, especially in a world where transnational cooperation is becoming an essential part of legal practice. In relation to child abduction, international treaties are often essential due to the cross border nature of a growing number of these cases. That said, the application and enforcement of these laws is vital if they are to be effective in applying to those it seeks to protect.