Hearing before the Committee on the Rights of the Child

United Nations Organization - Geneva - Switzerland
 
 June 9, 1999. Room IX, 2 to 3 pm

Good Afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen,  
 

Before proceeding, I would like to express my deepest appreciation to Mr. Paolo David for his interest in this subject and for his willingness to schedule a hearing to support the children and their parents victims of the tragedy of international parental abduction and wrongful retention. I am also grateful to the other members of the Committee for their interest and involvement in addressing this subject.  
 

My name is Violaine Delahais. I am a French citizen born and raised in The Hague, in The Netherlands. I am currently a permanent resident of the USA. I want to make it clear that I am not a lawyer, I am not a psychologist or some kind of expert in anything. I am just the proud and sad mother of Rayan El Qadi, 8 years old, who has been parentally abducted to Lebanon two times in four years. As of today, I have had no contact whatsoever with my beloved son for 601 days. I have been fighting against Child Abduction for five years not only for Rayan but also for all the victim children. During these five years, I have been and I am still in touch with many left-behind parents and Missing Children Organizations around the world. I could spend hours telling you the most incredible stories that you would have a hard time to believe; yet they are all true.  
 

Each child abduction is unique although there is a common pattern of horror, suffering, anger and frustration. I am in charge of the European Affairs for P.A.R.E.N.T., which stands for Parents Advocating for Recovery through Education by Networking Together. P.A.R.E.N.T. is an international coalition of left-behind parents and nonprofit organizations. I have also been nominated and trained by the Department of Justice in Washington to be part of a support network of left-behind parents in the USA. This project is called H.O.P.E., which stands for Help Offered to Parents for Empowerment. Besides the USA, I am in permanent contact with organizations from France, Switzerland, Belgium, England, Ireland, Argentina and Australia. We exchange resources and support, we lobby to try to change the laws and educate the population and we meet on a regular basis. Most of us are volunteers and left-behind parents. These wonderful people have raised the money to fly me here today and speak on behalf of our children.  
 

A. Parental kidnapping defined  

One article the American Bar Association (ABA) Journal's starts with the assertion: "One of the worst terrors a parent can suffer is to have a child abducted by the other parent."  

According to the 1980 Hague Convention, The removal or the retention of a child is to be considered wrongful where -

a. It is in breach of rights of custody attributed to a person, an institution or any other body, either jointly or alone, under the law of the State in which the child was habitually resident immediately before the removal or retention; and

b. At the time of removal or retention those rights were actually exercised, either jointly or alone, or would have been so exercised but for the removal or retention.  

In other words, this convention provides for children to be returned to the pre-abduction country of residence regardless of whether a custody order is in effect (Schwerin, 1988).
 

B. Incidence  

Parental abduction is A SERIOUS AND UNFORTUNATELY GROWING INTERNATIONAL ISSUE. Yet, Parental Abduction is still not taken seriously by the governments, law enforcement agencies and the general public although it is now recognized as a crime in some western countries.  

Each year hundreds of thousands of children around the world fall victim to family abductions. Estimates of such abductions range from approximately 400 per year in Canada to 350,000 per year in the United States. The exact figures for international child abduction are not known. US Congress estimated the number of internationally abducted or wrongfully retained American children at 10,000 when it passed the International Parental Crime Act of 1993. In England, Reunite, the National Council for Abducted Children, has recorded a 50% increase since 1995 in the number of children abducted abroad by an estranged parent. In France, a similar upsurge has been recorded especially in regard to abductions to Lebanon since the end of the war. The Swiss Movement Against Child Abduction reports that the number of parental abductions has doubled in 18 years.
 
 

Parental Kidnapping is on the Rise Everywhere
 
 

Experts say the number of reported cases of missing children has been holding steady in virtually every category with one big exception: children taken by their own parents. Ben Ermini, Director of the missing children's division at the Virginia-based National Center for Missing & Exploited Children says that while the number of runaways, stranger abductions and kids who are lost has remained relatively unchanged, parental kidnappings have been rising.
 
 

Yet, most people are totally ignorant about that subject. Despite the rapid increase in abduction cases, there is too little awareness of the phenomenon in the governments. Nor is there much awareness among the populations at large. As a result, very little is being done to tackle the issue.
 
 

It is about time that parental kidnapping stops to be a taboo as sexual abuse is. It is a serious crime and has to be addressed. Parental abduction is NOT a "domestic issue" or a "private child custody dispute" : IT IS A HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUE. While many believe these children are perfectly safe because they are with a family member, nothing could be farther from the truth.
 
 

The National Incidence Studies on Missing Abducted, Runaway and Throwaway Children (NISMART) of 1990 provides the following information about missing children in the USA:
 
 

Of the approximately 355,000 family abductions annually, 46% involve concealment of the child(ren), transporting them out of State, intent by the abductor to keep the child indefinitely or to permanently alter custody.
 
 

15% of family abductions involve the use of force or violence, while 75% to 85% of the 355,000 family abductions involve interstate transportation of the child. About half of family abductions occur before the relationship between the parents ends. On the other hand, half do not occur until two or more years after a divorce or separation, usually after parents develop new households, move away, develop new relationships, or become disenchanted with the legal system. Sadly, over half occur in relationships with a history of domestic violence. An estimated 49% of abductors have criminal records, while most, according to NISMART, also have a history of violent behavior, substance abuse or emotional disturbance.
 
 

It is not uncommon for children victims of family abductions to have their names and appearances altered, to experience medical/physical neglect, unstable schooling, homelessness, or frequent moves. These children are often told lies about the abduction and the left-behind parent, including that the left-behind parent does not love him anymore, does not want to take care of him or is dead.
 
 

* I know personally of a case of a French/American boy, Marc Copeland, who has been parentally abducted to the USA in August 1998. The FBI already traced him in six different States in the USA and two different locations in Mexico I doubt that this precious 6-year-old is receiving proper schooling with such a lifestyle.

* My own son Rayan El Qadi was locked up in an apartment for 7 months in Beirut before he began attending school under the constant surveillance of three armed bodyguards.
 
 

Many of the children of family abductions live like fugitives: they are taught not to trust anyone; told to keep secrets about their past, they are unable to establish relationships with friends; and always on the run from the law. As a result, many children victims of family abductions experience substantial psychological consequences and emotional distress with trauma symptoms evident for many years after.
 
 

Noble and Palmer (1984) stated that children who were forced to live the lifestyle of fugitives were developmentally slower. They were emotionally delayed because the children could not form relationships nor express or understand the emotions related to the abduction experience. Growth and developmental delay in abducted children was often due to malnutrition and neglect occurring while the abducting parent was seeking employment or changing the children's residences, friends, and schools. The intellectual delay related to infrequent school attendance with a lack of good environmental stimuli.
 
 

Grief and Hegar (1993) found that the children suffered psychological distress also in the two years after the abduction. Many children were receiving mental health counseling and approximately 50 percent of the children were afraid of the abducting parent. Many children were suffering from the incidents they experienced while abducted. The children were confused over the episode, had difficulty adjusting upon return to the searching parent, and had to deal with severe emotional problems. Some children needed psychiatric hospitalization while others were suicidal (1993:153).
 
 

Besides these studies, there exist a second group that examined the impact of abduction experience. These are clinical studies, some of which are case reports. Terr (1983) used psychiatric examinations on 18 children, eight of whom had been successfully abducted by a parent. She found that the children experienced psychic trauma, fright, long-term grief or rage, rejected the parents, and displayed exaggerated identification. Senior, Gladstone, and Nurcombe (1982) in their study of abducted children found the following common symptoms: bed-wetting, thumb-sucking, regression, anxiety, depression, and withdrawal. They reported the case of a two-year-old child who was abducted for five weeks by his mother and suffered from fearful and depressive-type behaviors and sleep disturbances.
 
 

Because of the harmful effects on children, parental kidnapping has been characterized as a form of child abuse.
 
 

For more information on the effects of parental kidnapping on parents and children, see When Parents Kidnap, Geoffrey L. Greif and Rebecca Hegar, New York: Free Press 1993.
 
 

Studies of Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) have established the severity of psychological damage done to abducted children, suddenly separated from a parent. The studies have also shown how susceptible the child is to being systematically alienated by the abductor-parent from the victim-parent. This PAS syndrome is very similar to the "Stockholm syndrome" well known in Europe, when hostages start to identify with their captors. In the case of an abducted child the identification will be the stronger, because of the age of the "hostage" and the childs relationship with the "captor". For fear of losing the abducting parent as well, the child will not only be eager to please, but ready to believe allegations that it has been abandoned by the victim parent. Testimonies concerning the Parental Alienation Syndrome have been admitted in courts of law in many states and countries. See Doctor Darnall studies
 
 

The NISMART study also found that children involved in family abductions are typically taken by the non-custodial parent as an act of revenge against the other parent. In these situations, children are used as a weapon, rarely taken because the abducting parent loves the child and fears for the childs safety. However, even in the best situations, where an abducting parent loves the child, the ability to provide a safe, stable home environment is unlikely due to the psychological trauma created by a fugitive lifestyle. In more threatening situations, hostility, bitterness, and vengeance toward the other parent motivate the abductor to physically or psychologically harm the child.
 
 

PARENTAL KIDNAPPING IS NOT A "TUG OF LOVE". ITS A CRIME AND INNOCENT CHILDREN EVEN DIE OF PARENTAL ABDUCTIONS.
 
 

In early 1999, in Queens, New York a father killed his two sons after he said, "If I cannot have them, she (the mother) will not have them either". The mother reported the boys missing the day they were taken but the Police did not start searching before three days because the children were with their father and were wrongly assumed to be safe.
 
 

In January 1999, a man from Colorado kidnapped and killed his daughter and himself. He had been allowed unsupervised visitation with the girl despite having previously kidnapped her in 1997. After the 1997 episode, the mother pleaded and pleaded to at least get the visits supervised. Social services determined that unsupervised visits between father and daughter were appropriate.
 
 

May 99 - BROWNSVILLE, Minn. -- A father is under arrest on charges he killed his young son by abducting him from his home and taping the boy to a tree to force his ex-girlfriend into marriage. Interviews with friends of the father, who was a suspect very early in the investigation, led the police to believe that he would not harm the boy. Authorities decided to conduct a quiet investigation of the case before finally announcing the abduction three days later and asking the state clearinghouse for missing children and the media for help. According to the Police, the father admitted he took the child out of the house and left him in the woods. He said he could hear the child crying as he drove away. He was 31/2 years old.
 
 

Child abductions are difficult and complex when they occur within one country. When they involve different countries, they are even more so.
 
 

Most people associate child abduction with faraway countries where laws and customs are very different from ours. But, child abduction within western societies is much more common than supposed and there has been an explosion in the number of incidents since the mid-1970s. There are no international conventions regulating custody matters. Custody orders made in one country are not necessarily recognized in another. When non-custodial parents abduct their children from the country in which custody has been given (usually heading to their home country), the chances of recovering them through judicial process is slim or almost non-existent when it comes to Islamic countries. Every year, more and more children find themselves separated in the most harrowing circumstances from one of their parents.
 
 

Individual parents capable of internationally abducting or wrongfully retaining children are to be FOUND IN EVERY COUNTRY. The question is whether their governments will control their conduct and protect the parental rights of foreign parents, especially in light of the international legal obligations of all countries under either (or both) the Hague Convention (1980) or the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that guarantee the role of both parents and the right of children with parents of different nationalities to spend time in both countries.
 
 

Over 50 percent of the searching parents interviewed in the Swaren and Dalley (1993) study claimed that their child was taken from Canada to the United States. Both the United States and Europe have a serious problem in regard to abductions to Germany.
 
 

I would like to emphasize the specific problems related to Islamic countries when it comes to Parental Abduction. The Islamic population of the world is around one billion, with 30% in the Indian subcontinent, 20% in Sub-Saharan Africa, 17% in Southeast Asia, 18% in the Arab world, 10% in the Russian republics and China. Turkey, Iran and Afghanistan comprise 10% of the non-Arab Middle East. Although there are Muslim minorities in almost every area, including in Europe, Latin America and Australia, they are most numerous as a portion of the populations of the Russian republics, Pakistan and Central Africa. There are estimated 5 millions Muslims in the United States; Islam is the second religion in France. The Sharia law has been incorporated into personal status of most of the Middle Eastern countries, excluding Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf States where no codes have been enacted but which rely on the doctrines of the locally applicable school of Islamic Law. Of these countries, the Department of States in Washington reports the largest number of cases involved children abducted to Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
 
 

Other countries include:

Iran, Algeria, Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Sudan, Turkey, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Bengla Desh.

50% of the parental abductions in France occurs in four countries: Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt; (but more kids are recovered from these countries than from Germany).

England has a serious problem with Libya;

Belgium encounters serious problems with unsolved Moroccan cases.
 
 
 
 

Sharia Law gives legal custody to the father as well as the control of the whole family. Children born to a dual-national family where the father is Muslim, are considered Muslim by the culture and legal traditions of the father. Although Muslim men are allowed to marry non-Muslim women, the mothers rights are affected by their religious status. If divorced, a non-Muslim mother can be prohibited from access to her children if those children reside in the fathers homeland. When remarried, both Muslim and non-Muslim mothers loose every right to their children. Dual citizenship of a child born from a cross-cultural marriage is not recognized in Islamic countries. Minor children cannot travel in the Islamic world without the fathers permission. In most countries they cannot leave the country without their fathers permission. Therefore, bilateral treaties between western countries and Islamic countries are never enforceable because even if court ordered, visitations cannot occur without the fathers consent. Even the mothers are prohibited from traveling without the consent of their spouse in most Islamic countries. Many are wrongfully retained ans abused for years.
 
 

Child Abductions and wrongful retentions in Islamic countries

are HOSTAGE SITUATIONS.
 
 

THE BEST INTEREST OF THE CHILDREN SHOULD BE INTERNATIONAL.
 
 

Sadly, children's issues remain an area where national interest is too often the priority. Cooperation between some Hague Convention countries is practically non-existent. Judges often do not know the treaty well enough to enforce it and nationalism takes precedence over the Hague Convention rules. Non-Hague countries dont respect the UN CRC, as they do NOTHING to remedy the tragedy of Parental Abduction.
 
 

The left-behind parents suffer the frustration and anguish of losing contact with a beloved child, either in situations in which the whereabouts of the child are unknown, or in situations in which the whereabouts are known, but access is limited or denied entirely, such as in most Islamic countries. They have to deal with the system which is a great deal of frustration and they always end up financially and emotionally drained.
 
 

There is NO IDEAL SOLUTION to these cases. Even if the child is successfully returned to the left-behind parent in the country of habitual residence, which is only fair, this child will then be deprived from the abducting parent, that he loves no matter what. The basic right of every child to have access to both parents according to the UN Convention on the Right of the Child will be denied.
 
 

IN SHORT, IN PARENTAL ABDUCTIONS

THE ULTIMATE VICTIM IS ALWAYS THE CHILD.
 
 

This is why it is crucial to raise awareness about that issue in order to promote PREVENTION and in an attempt to find INTERNATIONAL REMEDIES.
 
 

International abduction and retention of children should be recognized as a criminal offense in all countries. Most countries, especially Islamic countries do not recognize such abductions as a crime at all. With the help of this Committee, we can make progress in addressing these issues, such as having extradition treaties that would allow extradition for parental kidnapping whenever both countries recognize the offense as a crime.
 
 

Raising awareness can start with the obligation for the countries to address the issue of parental kidnapping in their report to the UN regarding their compliance with the CRC Convention. That way, countries will no longer be able to ignore this issue.
 
 

As suggested by Mr. Paolo David on April 14, 1999, special experts from the Human Rights Commission can start investigating the greatest offenders of the article 11 of the UN CRC. We need to have studies into the individual compliance records of each of the signatory countries.
 
 

Promoting Prevention can also include that the Committee for the Rights of the Child provides recommendations to the countries on how to deal with such cases. We need to educate because most people DONT EVEN KNOW THAT INTERNATIONAL CHILD KIDNAPPING EXIST.
 
 

Providing recommendations such as:
 
 

n Encouraging countries to join the Hague convention

n or entering bilateral agreements regarding parental kidnapping with other countries,

n Encouraging countries to explore making better use of diplomatic initiatives in such cases ;

n Encouraging countries to systematically return the children to their habitual country of residence so that abductors will not be encouraged to seek assistance in their home country for a court order in their favor.
 
 

I strongly believe that assistance and guidance of this Committee would be of great benefit both to governments, law enforcement personnel who must quickly respond to these cases as well as to left-behind parents in international abduction cases.
 
 

Again, I appreciate the opportunity to appear before the committee concerning this most important topic. I wish to thank the Committee for the honor of speaking about the worlds most precious resource, our children.
 
 

Thank you.

Violaine Delahais

European Affairs for P.A.R.E.N.T.
 
 

Sources:
 
The NISMART study of 1990

Parental Abduction Of Children: An Overview And Profile Of The Abductor, Prepared by John Kiedrowski,M.A.(Crim.), C.H.S. Jayewardene, Ph.D., Kiedrowski and Associates, Marlene Dalley, Ph.D. - MISSING CHILDREN'S REGISTRY, R.C.M.P. - P.O. Box 8885 OTTAWA, ONTARIO K1G 3M8 - August 19, 1994.

Testimonies of Paul Marinkovitch, Tom Johnson and Lady Meyer before the Committee of Foreign Relations, US Senate, October 1st, 1998.

The Solomon Protocol, author: Kristin Uhlman, soon to be published by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Mariages mixtes entre suisses et étrangers, S. Aldeeb, Institut suisse de droit comparé, Dép. Féd. de Justice et Police, 1998, Lausanne.

Collectif de Solidarité aux Mères des Enfants Enlevés, Mères dAlger", France

Vanished Children Alliance, California

Personal Experience