With the number of kidnapping cases rising and children being unlawfully taken overseas, divorced and separated parents are being urged to look for the warning signs, according to a leading international family law expert.
Barry.Nilsson. Special Counsel Terrence Trainor said with more people traveling and emigrating overseas and the incidence of divorce and separation increasing, international child abduction was a growing problem.
The warning comes in the wake of a case currently before the courts which dates back to 2013 involving an Egyptian national who claims he was involved in a ruse to lure him to Cooktown while his child was recovered from Egypt back to Australia.
Mr Trainor said awareness was often the best protection, and he advises separating couples with international passports or working abroad to consider whether their child/children may be at risk of abduction.
“For some, child abduction back to the country of origin can become a desperate reality and, depending on the jurisdiction in question, there is no guarantee the foreign courts will support the return of an abducted child,” Trainor says.
Australia has one of the highest per capita rates in the world of parents unlawfully kidnapping their children and taking them overseas1.
In the last financial year, 137 Australians applied to Hague Convention signatories to have their children returned2.
According to the latest figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics3, the number of marriages between two people born in Australia has decreased from 61.4% in 2005 to 54.2% of all marriages in 2015.
Conversely, the number of Australian marriages between two people born in the same overseas country has increased over the same period, from 8.7% in 2005 to 13.9% in 2015. Marriages of people born in different countries accounted for 31.9% of all marriages in 2015 compared with 29.9% in 2005.
So what are the danger signs?
“If you feel that you’re having relationship difficulties and your partner has a strong heritage connection with another country then you need to start asking questions,” says Trainor, who specialises in international family law matters which include Hague Convention4 cases.
“You would also be more troubled if your spouse/partner’s extended family is living in another country which is not a signatory to the Hague Convention.
“Generally there are signs and odd behaviours that could indicate a potential child abduction risk.
“More phone calls home, money shifting out of accounts, a partner asking to update passports all of a sudden or disclosing that he or she wants to visit a family member in their home country who they haven’t seen for 20 years, should raise some red flags.”
“The most important thing is to understand the risks and to keep your eyes wide open to the possibility that one parent may take their child out of the country with no intention of returning them.”
Here are Trainor’s five tips to help prevent the risk of international child abduction:
1. Understand the risks Do the children have multiple nationalities and either a current or lapsed passport? Do the countries in question allow for one parent to have a passport issued or reissued or visa issued?
2. Know where the passports are held Hang onto them if you are concerned and sometimes they can be held by a relative.
3. Contact the embassy or passport service If you are concerned a new passport may have issued.
4. Speak to your solicitor They can apply for the children to be placed on the family law watchlist which means the children and passports will be flagged with the Australian Federal Police. Note you will need to have evidence or reasons to support an application. This has practical issues if the parents are still together.
5. Are the countries Hague Convention countries? If yes, then you are better placed to have the children returned if they did manage to leave the jurisdiction.
For more on international child abduction, listen to Terrence's interview on ABC Nightlife here.
1International Social Services, Living in Limbo, 2005 Report
2Hague Convention Application Statistics, Australian Government, Attorney-General’s Department
3ABS Marriages and Divorces Australia 2015
4The Hague Convention is an international treaty signed by multiple countries including Australia to ensure that parenting orders made by one country are upheld by the other. In countries which are not signatory to the Hague Convention, it can be difficult to locate and have children returned from these countries.