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October 15th, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
There’s nothing extraordinary about this case (IOL, 10/11/12).  It’s just a garden variety international child abduction case, of the type we see fairly often.  Three years ago, when the child was two, the mother decided the girl’s father was “neglectful” and “intimidating,” so she abducted her from her home in Belgium to South Africa.  That’s where the unnamed mother’s parents live.  That triggered an international momhunt that took three years to locate the mother and the girl, now five, in a suburb of Cape Town.  That done, the father got the South African Central Authority to file suit for him under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.  In due course, the South African judge ruled in Dad’s favor, Mom appealed and her appeal was denied.

There’s an interesting parallel to the story of the Italian father’s fight in Australia to get back his four daughters.

A legal representative for the mother told Weekend Argus yesterday that both mother and child were to return to Belgium today.

However, measures had been put in place to ensure they were provided with a flat to live in in that country. She would also receive maintenance while in Belgium.

In addition, the mother would be allowed to apply to a Belgiam (sic) court to relocate to SA. Authorities have also undertaken not to arrest her when she arrives there; she was convicted, in her absence, of abduction.

Just as in the Italian dad’s case, local authorities have promised to refrain from enforcing the laws of the country against the mother.  She violated those laws as well as international laws, but can’t be punished because she did. After all, if she’d never left Belgium, she’d be subject to its laws, but for some reason, since she abducted the child to another country in violation of still more laws, she’s given a free pass.  It seems to be the theory that, regardless of how much criminal wrongdoing she engages in, courts refuse to do the obvious thing – turn the child over to the father and let the criminal justice system deal with the mother as it sees fit.

So, as I said, there’s nothing much unusual about this case, and that includes the article reporting on it.  As is almost invariably the case, the reporter keeps the father utterly silent.  From start to finish she quotes the mother in a variety of contexts.  She quotes her speech, she quotes her court filings, she makes her as sympathetic a figure as possible.

“With heavy heart and fond memories”, the mother who fled Belgium with her two-year-old daughter nearly three years ago, will have to return to that country on Saturday – after the Constitutional Court on Friday dismissed her bid to keep the child in SA…

“I also hope that our situation and the way it is still to be resolved will be a light shining for families who agonise with situations like this, and hope decisions made for us will help them overcome,” she said…

“At the time, rightly or wrongly, I felt I had no choice but to flee to South Africa to the safety of my parents’ home, and perhaps to a legal system that would regard the best interests of my child as paramount,” she said in an affidavit before the Constitutional Court.

But not a peep out of Dad.  If the reporter made any effort to contact him or his solicitors, she doesn’t indicate it.  She quotes court filings made by the mother, but none from the father.

And let’s be clear about a few of the things the reporter so assiduously omitted.  Of course she refused to let the dad tell his side of the story, leaving us only with Mom’s description of him as “neglectful” and “intimidating.”  Does he agree or disagree?  What does he say about Mom?  We’ll never know.

Second, how did the little girl feel about being deprived of her father for over half her life?  Has she suffered?  Does she miss him?  What did Mom tell her when she asked “where’s Daddy?”  Child abduction is parental alienation per se, but did the mother do more to turn the child against her father?  What did she do?

Third, Belgium is a civilized country; it has courts of law that deal with child custody issues every day and those that hear questions of child abuse and neglect.  So isn’t it odd that the mother refused to make her case in Belgian court and instead abducted the child?  It’s almost as if she wasn’t very confident of her ability to convince the Belgian court that the dad was “neglectful” and “intimidating,” so she took the law into her own hands.

Fourth, how much time and money did she cost the police and other authorities when she did so?

Her flight prompted a massive hunt for the child, involving international police, private investigators, and Belgian and SA authorities.

How much time did that take?  How much did it cost the taxpayers of the various countries?  Why does no one seem to question that waste of resources?  Why are Belgian authorities giving her a pass (plus housing, plus “maintenance”)?

Finally, what suffering did the girl’s father undergo during the three year search for his daughter?  Of course the reporter would have had to actually pick up a telephone and dial it to learn that, and more and more it seems that’s something reporters refuse to do when it comes to fathers and the possibility of depicting them as human beings worthy of respect and sympathy.

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