International child abduction has gotten to be a big enough problem in England that the government has decided to start a campaign to make people more aware of it. This article reports on the recent British Foreign Office report on the dramatic increase in child abductions (BBC, 12/11/12).
It turns out that, since 2004, there’s been an 88% increase in the number of child abductions in England. That’s an increase from 270 abductions in 2003-04 all the way up to 500 so far this year. Some 76% of people know it’s a crime for a parent to abduct a child, but apparently the Foreign Office puts the rise in abductions down to ignorance about the law. My guess is it has nothing to do with that. In fact, my guess is that it has more to do with fathers’ rights organizations continuing to agitate for increased parenting time and the generally greater awareness of the value of fathers to children.
I say that because the Foreign Office study found that 70% of abductions are committed by mothers. So the question becomes “why would so many more mothers abduct their children abroad than they did a mere eight years ago?” What’s changed in that time to cause such a radical shift in behavior? As I said, mine’s just a guess, but I can’t think of anything else to explain the phenomenon.
What the British public gets completely wrong is who commits the abductions. Some 74% of the people surveyed by the Foreign Office said they believe that fathers do most of the abductions. Where’d they get that idea? That’s hard to say, but the generally low regard in which fathers are held by the press, entertainment media and the courts likely has a lot to do with it. If there’s a bad actor in a family situation, whether real or fictional, those sources of popular narrative on the subject are likely to say it’s the father. Therefore, we’ve read recently that social workers’ default position is mistrust of fathers and they actively try to separate him from his children and wife or partner.
And of course fathers are routinely denied custody by courts who then reinforce the message by refusing to enforce the meager visitation they’ve spooned out to dads. Popular culture commonly depicts fathers as (a) uninterested in their children, (b) buffoonishly incompetent to deal or even interact with children or (c) dangerous to children.
So, with that cultural backdrop firmly in place, it should come as no surprise that three-fourths of Britons believe that fathers are the chief abductors of children. As if to underscore the point, the BBC article linked to buried the information at the very bottom.
Between 2001 and 2011 there was a 206% increase in the number of children taken to a country which had not ratified the Hague Convention on child abduction, an international agreement between certain countries which aims to ensure the return of a child who has been abducted by a parent.So, in only a slightly longer period of time, the increase in abductions to a non-Convention country was more than double the increase in abductions generally. Given that almost 180 countries are signatories to the Hague Convention, that doesn’t leave many non-Convention nations to abduct to. Unless the raw figures are very small, that suggests to me that abducting parents have a pretty good idea of what they’re about when they decide to make off with a child.
Meanwhile, the Foreign Office seems to want us to believe that parents who abduct their kids do so for benign or at worst misguided reasons. A foreign Office Spokesperson said,
“We hope that this campaign will help inform and educate the UK public and encourage parents thinking of abducting their child to think twice before they cause significant distress to themselves and their family.”I’ve written a lot about international child abduction, and in every case, it was done maliciously and without the slightest concern for the damage it did to the children or the parent left behind. In every case it’s been done for the most selfish of motives and is often part and parcel of a campaign of parental alienation. The probability that people like Laura Garrett or Helen Gavaghan would hesitate for an instant because of some Foreign Office admonition to please not violate the law is vanishingly small.
More to the point, will this new data give anyone – judges, custody evaluators, social workers, anyone at all – the idea that mothers aren’t all the nurturing saints they’re made out to be? Will any of those people ever get the message that mothers are every bit as likely to do physical or emotional injury to a child as are fathers and in fact more so? I doubt that this report will turn the tables, but it’s one more straw on the camel.