Relocation of children within and out of Australia is one of the most emotional and traumatic issues in family law. When that movement involves children taken from Australia or even retained here from overseas, it becomes even more difficult to deal with.
Children wrongfully removed from Australia
As the then Attorney-General Robert McClelland said in late 2011 –
“On average, two to three children are wrongfully removed from Australia or retained in another country every week by one of their parents. Being forced to go through the experience of having your child taken away to another country is unimaginable for any parent. Abduction can have emotional, psychological and financial impacts.”
Federal Government statistics show that nearly 200 children each year are either removed from Australia and retained in another country, or brought to Australia and retained here illegally. You only have to think back to last year to the public outcry which followed the children brought to Australia from Italy and retained here, to see the angst caused by such actions, in particular to the children involved.
Australia is a party to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, commonly called the Hague Convention. In simple terms, this is an international treaty that provides an expeditious way to return children abducted by a parent from one member country to another.
The Convention was drafted to ensure the prompt return of children who have been abducted from their country of “habitual residence”, that is where they lived most of their life, or wrongfully retained in a country which is not their country of habitual residence. Hence, the primary intention of the Convention is to preserve arrangements that were in place for the care of children before they were abducted. Importantly, the Convention only applies to children under the age of 16.
As of May 2013, 89 States are members of the Convention, which include countries, independent territories and States, throughout the world. Some countries are notably not members – including the middle east, mainland China, and some south east nations such as Malaysia (remember the Gillespie children?), and Vietnam.
One of the most notable exceptions has been Japan. Historically the second (and still currently the third) largest economy in the world, Japan is the only “G-7 nation” that has not signed the Convention.
However, one of the most significant developments in family law in the last 30 years since the Convention came into force, is the agreement by the new Japanese Prime Minister to join the Convention. To that end, the Japanese Parliament (the Diet), is currently debating the Bill to join, which is expected to be unanimously approved by the end of this month.
The significance of this is shown by figures indicating that the number of international marriages continues to climb in Australia, and the number of Japanese married to non-Japanese internationally has also climbed in the past decade, leading to several cases of abduction.