The plight of Sally Faulkner tugged at the heart strings of many Australians. She is the woman whose estranged husband took their children to Lebanon for a holiday and then refused to allow them to return to Australia. Her attempt at retrieving them ended in a fiasco when she was imprisoned in Lebanon along with a television crew, and was forced to trade away her custodial rights to secure her freedom. The children remain in Lebanon for the foreseeable future.
If Lebanon had been one of the 90 countries in the world who are signatories to the Hague Convention against International Child Abduction, the situation may have been very different. The Australian Central Authority in the Attorney General’s Department in Canberra would have contacted the Central Authority in Lebanon and arranged the return of the children to Australia, on the basis that the children had been residing in Australia for some time. If he really believed his actions were for their benefit, the husband then could have made a proper application in the Australian courts for the international relocation of his children. Instead he removed the children from their primary carer, from their accustomed home and country, for his own selfish motives. One day he will have to account for his actions to his children.
This is not an isolated incident. Each year, there are about 200 Australian cases of children being abducted to and from countries that are signatories to the Hague Convention and many more to countries that are not signatories. The majority of abductors are mothers, most of whom claim to be fleeing with their children from an abusive situation.
Take the case of the four Vincenti sisters, brought to Australia by their Australian mother in 2010 from Italy where the children had lived all their lives. She received much public support— and indeed crowd funded some of her legal costs—in her effort to keep the children in Australia. The Australian courts did not agree and sent the children back. They are now apparently all living happily in Italy.
So the message is this. It’s vital to children’s welfare that parents don’t try to take matters into their own hands following a relationship breakdown and try to remove the children from their usual location. They should first seek a proper agreement with the partner or the support of the Family Court.
The lesson is to be aware of the risks and dangers, particularly if a former partner has a strong connection with another country. Sometimes it is necessary to keep control of passports, and to have the children’s names placed on the Family Law Watchlist (previously known as the Airport Watchlist) so they can be prevented from leaving. If you live abroad with a foreign resident, be aware it may be very difficult to return with the children to Australia if things don’t work out.
As for the Hague Convention, it has been a great success and needs to be supported, and more countries pressured to join so as to protect the welfare of their children.