Tackling Parental Child Abduction
With parental child abduction within South Asian communities on the rise, we speak to Reunite, a charity dedicated to helping parents dealing with abduction, and one woman who has battled for 7 years to get her daughter back from Pakistan.
27-year-old Kiran* is a mother of two children. In an ideal world she would have spent the last seven years of her life watching her children grow up. But for Kiran those years have seen heartache and despair. In 1999 her daughter, then 3 and a half years old, was abducted by her husband and taken to Pakistan. Since then she has spent no more than 10 minutes with her daughter during a seven year long battle through the lengthy Pakistani court system to bring her daughter ‘home’.
Sadly Kiran’s story is just one of many sweeping the UK. South Asian communities are increasingly falling prey to parental child abduction leading to an influx of calls to organizations who deal with this crime.
One of those organizations in Reunite, a Leicester based advice line charity dealing with hundreds of cases of parental child abduction. Formed in 1986 the charity has close links with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and is made up of a number of advice lines helping and supporting parents dealing with child abduction.
Dilshad Patel, Advice Line Co-ordinator for the charity, told The Asian Today statistics showed a worrying rise in parental child abduction cases within the South Asian community and in particularly Pakistan. “Over the past decade there has been a 133% rise in parental child abduction cases across the board. But when we look specifically at the individual South Asian countries this is where we see the worrying rise. Specifically with Pakistan, for every one case in India and Bangladesh there are five cases to Pakistan which is remarkably high.” With a number that high Reunite has attempted to research issues surrounding cases from Pakistan. Dilshad said a wide variety of issues including mixed marriages and a rise in divorce cases within the South Asian community played their part in child abduction cases.
“I’ve spoken to many many parents over the past few weeks and there are a number of issues that play a factor in child abduction cases”, she said. “Mixed marriages, a rise in divorce within the South Asian community, domestic violence and the easy accessibility of obtaining children’s passports all play their part. Another important factor is the high number of young British Pakistani’s who are still marrying people from Pakistan. If a marriage in this instance breaks up the individual from Pakistan will normally return back and when there are children involved in these cases this is where a lot of the problems occur”.
One of the main obstacles when dealing with child abduction cases involving Pakistan is their failure to recognize the Hague Convention – a union between a number of countries that see child abduction as a crime. The problem the UK has is that a lot of Muslim countries are not signed up to the Hague convention so normal protocol within the Hague convention does not apply. In an effort to combat this the UK and Pakistan have agreed their own protocol in the form of the UK-Pakistan Judicial Protocol on Child Matters which agrees that wrongfully retained children should be returned to their country of residence. But while in theory the protocol may look to aid the British parent, in reality different practices within Pakistan only serve to make the journey longer. One issue facing parents with abducted children in Pakistan is the lack of financial aid.
“Parents from this country who may be legal aided here will not be legal aided in Pakistan so there is a huge financial strain on parents”, Dilshad explains. “With countries in the Hague convention parents are legal aided all the way but because Pakistan is not part of the Hague Convention parents will need to fund their own cases in Pakistan. Alongside this parents need to be aware that the court system in Pakistan is very long and in many cases untrusting which is very disheartening”.
She added that as a result many disillusioned parents looked to take the situation into their own hands by traveling out to Pakistan in search of their abducted child.
“It can take years to get back abducted children which is why many parents decide to take matters into their own hands”, Dilshad said. “The problem with this is that we can’t track the safety of the parent when they travel out to Pakistan. There are cases where families try and come to an agreement with regards to the children but these are few and far between because a compromise cannot be reached.”
But for Dilshad and Reunite, taking steps to prevent children being abducted in the first place is better than the cure. “If we can try and help prevent abductions taking place then parents will not have to face the hardship and years of agony in trying to get abducted children back”, she said. “If parents are in fear of their children being abducted then they can contact us. If parents do call us saying they fear their child or children will be abducted we have a prevention guide that we send out and can be downloaded from our website. We will help them with regards to contacting police. If a child’s been taken with less than 24 hours then we will help the parents do a port alert which is alerting all the ports in the UK. The help is there for them.”
One parent who did contact Reunite for help was Kiran. Having battled for seven years to bring her daughter back, she will here her fate in September when she makes her final trip to Pakistan. Speaking to The Asian Today, Kiran spoke of the fateful day when her daughter was taken from her. “Me and my husband had a love marriage”, she said. “Things were brilliant at the beginning and we had our first child. After about 3 years of the marriage cracks started to appear. He started having an affair and his girlfriend would constantly ring the house. He was also taking heroin at that time and would constantly push me around. I desperately wanted to leave but he wouldn’t let me. I finally managed to rent a property and was planning on moving out when he was away for the weekend. But the men I rented the property off came to our house and told my husband about the property. That night we argued till 4am. In the morning I called the police telling them I wished to leave the house and was planning on taking my children with me. When they arrived my husband went crazy. I managed to grab hold of my daughter, and son, who was one at the time. He tried to snatch the children out of my hands but only succeeded in grabbing my daughter off me and refusing to give her back. The police were no help at all saying they couldn’t help only advising me to appoint a solicitor. They left not long after they came to the house. Fearing for my life I ran to the nearest police station and was yet again told I needed a solicitor. I called Leeds Women’s Aid who picked me up and appointed me a lawyer. At this stage my husband still had my daughter. First thing Monday morning I went to court and was granted a residency court order. A property court order was also granted meaning the police had the powers to search properties relating to my husband to search for my daughter. The orders were issued and they searched all the properties but my husband and daughter could not be found. They issued a port alert and on the Tuesday the passport office faxed us saying he had obtained a passport for my daughter and had left for Pakistan with her.”
Sine that day Kiran has spent the last seven years fighting to get her daughter back. She’s hired detectives, taken her in-laws to court for disclosure of information and even placed surveillance camera’s outside her husbands family home after his father passed away in the hope of obtaining any information on the whereabouts of her daughter.
It was only after contacting Reunite that things started moving forward. She was appointed a lawyer, Richard Jones, whose extensive network in Pakistan helped track down her husband and daughter. It was during a court case not long after that she caught a first glimpse of her daughter. “It was such an emotional moment for both of us”, she said. “My husband had told her that I was dead so for her to realise the truth was very hard for her. I was only given ten minutes to speak to her. Since that day I have never spoken to her again despite her being in every court session since.”
Kiran is highly critical of the way the Pakistani courts deal with child abduction cases.
“It’s a joke the way the Pakistani courts deal with these cases”, she said. “They don’t recognize the orders here yet they sign them, they have tantrums about the protocols but they sign them. There are also negative attitudes towards parents from other countries. Why should they give the child back to a British mother when the child can stay in Pakistan. But that fact is she isn’t a Pakistani child, she’s a British child. They make you sit in court all day long and don’t let you even have any contact with your child. You have to beg them and plead with them.”
In September Kiran is hoping her seven-year fight will come to an end. She was told previously she had been granted custody of her child only to be told the decision would not be made until September. So what are Kiran’s hopes when she returns to Pakistan this September? “I’m hoping to bring my daughter home in September”, she says. “If they don’t let me bring her home I’m hoping they will give me some contact with her so me and my son can actually speak to her and have some sort of closure to all of this. My son is eight years old and his hair is falling out. He doesn’t understand why his dad has done what he’s done. He doesn’t understand why his dad has never got in touch with him and he can’t understand why his sister can’t be with him. This hasn’t just affected me or my daughter, it’s affected us all. I am going to fight for my daughter until I go to my grave.”
Reunite can be contacted on 0116 255 6234
*Names have been changed to protect identities
By Zakia Yousaf