Kate Hamer’s debut novel “The Girl in the Red Coat” is a mesmerising journey into “the reality” of life as an abducted child.
Told from the perspectives of the eight year old victim and her devastated mother and interwoven with supernatural themes, it reveals the impact upon a child of being severed from her parent and all that she has known.
Stripped from all the familial, social and emotional ties of her past, we witness Carmel’s efforts to survive through adjustment and integration in the life of her abductor. But simultaneously, we witness her struggle to preserve over time and distance, the profound and visceral bond she has with her mother, and indeed with her father notwithstanding the separation of her parents.
In reality, children are “abducted” more commonly by a parent than by a deranged stranger. Those abductions are sometimes over international boundaries.
The impact of separation on couples from different countries can mean that children may be denied the possibility of regular contact with one parent or the other. The realisation of what it means to be separated from a child can lead some parents to take the extraordinary step of abducting their own child.
Such abductions maybe unlawful if the child was habitually resident in the country from which they have been removed and if the parent remaining there has custody rights.
The law on international child abduction is complex.
Rarely, there will be good and justifiable reasons for flight and, if established, there may be no order to return the child to the country from which they have been taken. Both the parent who has fled, as well as the parent remaining, need careful and expert legal advice about such matters.
But, from the perspective of a child, parents should be astute to the huge damage which can be done to their emotional wellbeing to be wrenched from all that is familiar, and possibly also from the person to whom they have been most closely attached.
It is often difficult for parents to stand in the shoes of their child when they themselves are beset by the raw emotion that goes along with separation.
But most parents would, if given the chance, protect their children from the disassociation felt by Carmel as she struggles to find her way home.