By J.V. Lakshmana Rao
Abduction and kidnap are bad words which are associated with a hefty ransom involving the cost of the life of the kidnapped or the abducted. Disgruntled spouses of couples, with strained relations, do abduct their own children to settle scores for various reasons like demand of alimony, child maintenance, dowry and other monetary or material gains.
The number of abduction cases among spouses domestically and internationally are increasing. With more Indian youths going for jobs abroad, the number of spousal abduction of their children is alarmingly growing and settlements of these cases are dragging for prolonged periods of years and decades.
It is appallingly pathetic to note that among 195 world countries, India is notoriously stands second to Mexico in the number of international parental child abduction cases. This dubious distinction is a shame.
An international law, approved by the International Court of Justice, exists under The Hague Convention to deal with the international parental child abduction cases. Unfortunately, India is not a signatory to it for various reasons, while 96 countries of the 195 countries signed the international law.
Because India is not a signatory to The Hague Convention, more than 1,000 international parental child abductions cases are pending seeking justice in various courts of India and a majority of them are spouses moved back from the US to India. Among the cases pending in India, most of them have been filed by women or, on their behalf, by their parents.
A leading advocate, K.V. Achuta Rama Rao, practicing in divorce and child custody cases in the various family courts in Hyderabad says that on an average he receives a good number of divorce cases locally and many child custody cases from the residents of the US. Most of these cases come from spousal women, he adds.
A 70-year-old father in India, who is representing his son living in the US, who is fighting a case for child custody, says that on an average more than 1,000 children are abducted to India from the US every year.
Asked for the reasons for increasing number of divorce and child abduction cases, the advocate says that girls’ parents, clamor for sons-in-law who are employed in foreign countries. But the girls, who are pampered by parents, do not adjust themselves for the lifestyle in the US. Over a couple of years, life becomes difficult for these girls and that too when they have children, they like to go back to India. The parents, who have only one daughter married to an NRI son-in-law,even welcome their troubled daughter to come back rather than “suffer” in the US. Therefore, such loving parents encourage their daughters to come back, and thus the trouble begins.
In some other cases, he says, the parents, who pampered their only girl, try to find some “excuses” like spousal harassment, dowry demand and other reasons. Such “only” pampered girl gets parental support for divorce, child custody, and alimony or all in one package. These girls, on one fine day, without telling their busy husbands, “pack up” their belongings and joined by their children flee to India and initiate cases against their husbands with various demands.
One father-in-law in India, who is fighting on behalf of his US resident son, says his daughter-in-law is the only child for their parents, and on one fine morning, she came away to India with her child after emptying bank balance she held jointly with her husband. She then accompanied by her infant child in India, and with the support of her parents, is fighting a case seeking divorce, alimony, alleging undue harassment, right to have the child custody, and such other possible excuses. She is unendingly seeking adjournments of her case in a court, thus making her husband numerous trips between US and India.
Under The Hague Convention, the husband has a right to fight the case in the US, where the child has been living with the parents prior to the abduction. But since India is not a signatory to The Hague Convention, the case has not been shifted from an Indian court to a US court. With so many adjournments in an Indian court, the husband, who works in the US, is incurring loss of time and money for travel, and loss of wages, with a threat of losing his job. The unending trial in an Indian court has been going on for several years. Meanwhile, the child’s US passport has expired and the child is soon going to be an adult with no status to claim in India as he is a US-born individual, holding an expired passport.
The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction or Hague Abduction Convention is a multilateral treaty developed by The Hague Conference on Private International Law that provides an expeditious method to return a child internationally abducted by a parent from one member country to another.
The convention was concluded on October 25, 1980 and came effective among the signatories on December 1, 1983. The convention was drafted to ensure the prompt return of children who have been abducted from their country of habitual residence or wrongfully retained in a contracting state not their country of habitual residence.
The main intention of the convention is to preserve whatever status quo child custody arrangement existed immediately before an alleged wrongful removal or retention thereby deterring a parent from crossing international boundaries in search of a more sympathetic court. The convention applies only to children under the age of 16.
One of the victims in the US of the international parental child abduction case filed in an Indian court, says that India should realize the need for it to sign The Hague Convention Treaty. He claims that a strong lobby of advocates, including women’s organizations, with their personal interests, are blocking India to sign The Hague Convention Treaty.
Another victim says the international parental child abduction (IPCA) has never been considered as an offence by law in India and no political party either in power or in opposition has any intention or inclination to enact a law on civil aspects of IPCA. It is because most of the cases of child abductions involve mothers but very rarely fathers. Further, IPCA and parental alienation are not viewed as child abuse in India. Women vote bank politics by gender divide and lawyers lobby are the key factors blocking India to act decisively to prevent and control this human shame endangering the bright future of the abducted children.
The victims of international child abduction cases, under the worldwide banner of “iStand Parent Network” representing 70 countries, including India and South Africa, which have not signed The Hague Convention, met in Washington DC, on May 24, and demonstrated in front of their respective embassies stressing the need for their countries to sign The Hague Convention Treaty.
By J.V. Lakshmana Rao