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.