UPDATE: PRESS RELEASE:  10th October 2023

Mothers and their supporters were in The Hague today as delegates from all
parts of the world arrived for the Eighth Meeting of the Special Commission on
the practical operation of the Hague (HCCH) Child Abduction Convention.
The Convention was set up in 1980 to address civil aspects of cross-border child
abductions. It aims to protect children by providing a system of cooperation
between Contracting Parties and a procedure for the swift return of the child to
their State of habitual residence. The Convention is based on the principle that
the return of a wrongfully removed or retained child is in their interests, unless
one of the exceptions applies, including the “grave risk” exception established
in Article 13(1)(b). While originally it was primarily non-custodial fathers who
abducted or retained their children abroad, nowadays in over 75% of the cases
it is primary-carer mothers who are taking their children mostly back to their
country of origin, often in order to escape domestic abuse. This change of
pattern involves inherent risks for a safe return of the mothers and their
children, in particular in situations when the ‘left behind’ father is a perpetrator
of domestic abuse. These important matters will be addressed by the Special
Commission meeting.

In the margins of the meeting, representatives of GlobalARRK and Hague
Mothers, two charities working to support and safeguard mothers and children
in these circumstances, handed a global #ProtectHagueVictims petition with
over 37,000 signatures to the Secretary General of the HCCH, Dr Christophe
Bernasconi. Receiving the petition, the Secretary General said that he did so ‘as
an expression of respect and empathy for the mothers and families who have
endured the pain and trauma of domestic violence’. He also committed ‘to
listen, empathise, and understand the gravity’ of their experiences, and to
remain available for discussions beyond the Special Commission meeting.
The petition was created by GlobalARRK in partnership with: FiLiA Hague
Mothers; New Zealand Hague Collective; Ark of Hope, Australia; Hague
Collective, US; Sanctuary for Families, US; Hague Mothers Japan; Maes de Haia,
Brazil; Revibra, Europe/ Brazil; and Far From Home, India. The UN Special
Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and Girls had also sent a letter to the
HCCH regarding the operation of the Child Abduction Convention in cases
involving domestic violence.
Mothers impacted by the Hague Abduction Convention, survivor-led
organisations, Her Hague Story (Australia), EU Hague Mothers, Hagued Mums,
and the European Network of Migrant Women, were also represented at the
Petition link: www.change.org/ProtectHagueVictims
Media Contact: Roz Osborne: roz@globalarrk.org

Protect vulnerable families! Fix the systemic failures of the Hague Abduction Convention

Sign the Change.org petition here: Petition

The Hague Convention on International Child Abduction (HC) was set up in 1980 to prevent non custodial fathers abducting their children abroad. Today the Convention is being misused by perpetrators of abuse and in over 75% of cases it is used against primary carer mothers who are fleeing abuse and violence to return to the safety of their ‘home’ country.

Most had no idea the Convention even existed: 

“When I packed my bags to study abroad at Uni I could never have anticipated what would happen. I was raped in my first year… I quickly realised after the birth, it wasn’t possible to manage university, my part-time job and looking after my son on my own – so I left and went back home with him. 

After I returned home with my son, I was served with international parental child abduction charges. I had never heard of the Hague Convention and was shocked I had broken an international law. I was terrified, I just wanted to support my child. 

The judge ruled against me, I lost the case and was ordered back. I couldn’t get a new visa so I had to return on a tourist visa, hoping I would be able to sort out a place to live and work when I got there. A social worker told me perhaps I should just send my baby overseas on his own. I couldn’t believe they could even suggest something like that about my baby, he was breastfeeding and I was his mum…

I am not eligible for any governmental support and I regularly skip meals to feed my son. The Hague Convention is a shambles. It destroys lives.”

How the system is failing victims:

  • The default presumption is to return the child, which results in minimising the safety of the child and primary carer. Courts are taking the stance of ‘return’ at all cost and rarely accept any of the Convention’s ‘exceptions’ to return.
  • Even when there is evidence of domestic abuse, or ‘grave risk of harm’ the courts routinely order the return of children with ineffective ‘Protective Measures’.
  • There is no safeguarding policy or risk assessment to protect children returned under the Convention and no follow up checks on children to ensure they are safe.
  • The ‘taking’ parent cannot automatically receive legal aid whereas the petitioning parent gets full legal aid.
  • Many parents accidently fall foul of this law because it is not generally known about and the concept of ‘habitual residence’ is inconsistent and unclear.
  • Parents who return with their child under the Convention can face discrimination, separate criminal charges and intolerable circumstances upon return such as loss of custody even if they have always been the primary caregiver.

Urgent action is needed:

  • States must be obligated to collect data on numbers of respondents reporting domestic abuse and the outcomes for families
  • Independent Review of the Convention that address our concerns and results in recommended changes
  • Introduction of a regulatory body to provide oversight of the Convention that includes experts on domestic violence and child abuse

Right now, we have a unique opportunity for change. In October, the Eighth Special Commission meeting is taking place in the Netherlands, where representatives from around the world will discuss this controversial multilateral treaty. GlobalARRK, together with 9 other charities* from around the world are calling on  governments to review the Convention and introduce a regulatory body to oversee future implementation of the law.

Please sign and share this Change.org petition to keep vulnerable families safer.