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May 16th, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
This case has been making waves in the Australian news media for days now (Nine MSN, 5/15/12).  The tone of outrage in the various articles and on the part of the mother and her supporters is remarkable.  What are they outraged about?  The fact that Australian courts have enforced the terms of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, that’s what.

So far, all the parties in the case remain unnamed by the news media.  Here’s another article (Fraser Coast Chronicle, 5/14/12).  And here’s another (Sydney Morning Herald, 5/15/12).

When she was 15, the mother went to Italy to study the language.  Two years later she married an Italian man with whom she had four daughters who are now aged 15, 13, 11 and 9.  Two years ago she took all the girls and moved to Australia in Queensland, apparently near Brisbane.  Six months ago, he filed a petition asserting his parental rights under the Hague Convention.  She countered that he was an abuser and the children would be in danger in his care.  More to the point, the mother didn’t want to leave her native Australia and neither did the girls who’d made friends there.

The judge considered the evidence and ruled that, while the father had an “authoritarian” manner of parenting, the children were in no danger.  Clearly the mother had abducted the girls from their place of residence and, since returning there would not impair their well-being, they must return to their father in Italy.

That ruling came in March and the police are now saying that it’s time for the children to return to Italy and, if they refuse, they’ll be forcibly returned.  The girls have now disappeared.  They’re likely in the company of an adult relative, although, unbelievably, the mother claims she “has no idea of” where they are.  The mother also has had her local MP contact Prime Minister Julia Gillard requesting her intervention which Gillard sensibly has refused.

Assuming the girls are located and returned to Italy, the salient feature of this case is that the Hague Convention process worked.  We don’t see that very often, but in this case, it seems to have functioned approximately as intended.  The Convention seeks a judicial decision within 60 days, and in this case it took about twice that long, but otherwise it did what it’s supposed to do – ensure the return of abducted children as long as it’s safe to do so.

But that’s not the way the Australian media are playing it.  No, media coverage there has been essentially 100% pro-mother.  Lurid claims that Australian authorities intend to drug the girls, handcuff them and force them aboard an airplane bound for Italy have appeared in essentially every article.  Into the bargain, the mother’s claims of abuse by the father are unquestioningly reprised despite the fact that the Australian judge considered and rejected them.  Stranger still is the notion that, for some reason, Australia shouldn’t be bound by the terms of a Convention it signed.  As such of course, it is part of the law of the land, but more than one article suggests that Australian courts should refuse to honor it.

And then of course there’s the matter of the father.  Of the half dozen or so articles I’ve read on the case, not one reporter has picked up the phone, called the guy and asked him for his side of the story.  Does no one in any media outlet speak Italian or know someone who does?  Somehow I doubt it.  Nor does a single one consider the heartbreaking loss to a father when his children are taken from him or the emotional/psychological damage done to children when they lose one of their parents and the only life they’ve ever known.

As with every case of abduction, there’s a court in the country of origin that was available to hear the mother’s claims of abuse and rule on them.  I don’t know Italian custody law, but my guess is it includes restrictions on custody and child access to abusive parents.  So why didn’t the mother just apply to the appropriate Italian court and have her claims adjudicated there instead of committing the crime of child kidnapping?  Unsurprisingly, the articles decline to address that question.  I’d say she didn’t because she didn’t have the evidence to support her case and she figured that, after a few years in Australia, the courts would just accept the fait accompli on behalf of an Australian citizen.  Hence her dismay and incomprehension when the courts actually enforced the law as it’s written and intended.

Finally, there’s the fact that the mother committed a crime.  Parental kidnapping is a crime in Australia, but apparently no authority has seen fit to prosecute the mother.  So, by any stretch of the imagination, she’s been given a significant break by law enforcement and the courts, but to read the media coverage, you’d think she was a victim of a horrendous miscarriage of justice.

The media coverage of this case is in many ways a throwback to the bad old days in which fathers, their rights and their humanity were routinely ignored in favor of the most outrageous claims against them.  Sometimes I think the world is changing to finally acknowledge the reality of fathers and their value to children, and mostly I think I’m right.  But the reporting on cases like this, in which the father becomes a non-entity, entirely deprived of a voice regarding the children he helped bring into the world and raise for almost all of their lives, shows us that the fight for fathers’ equality with mothers is ongoing and likely will be far into the future.

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