The more we see of international child abduction by parents, the less effective the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction seems. The Convention is supposed to require signatory countries to return children to their non-abducting parent within 60 days of apprehension. But the simple fact is that it seldom seems to work.
This may well be another example (Toronto Star, 12/10/11).
Stephen Watkins of Ontario lost his two sons - Alexander, 10 and Christopher, 7 - back in March of 2009. They were abducted by their non-custodial mother, Edyta Watkins. Stephen and Edyta were divorced and he had gained primary custody.
Stephen Watkins contends his ex-wife was suffering from post-partum depression and became abusive toward him six months after giving birth to their first child. After a court battle, a judge granted him custody of the children with his ex-wife having access to the boys on weekends.So, his first child is now 10 years old. He was abducted by the mother at age eight. Her emotional/psychological abuse of Stephen began six months after Alexander was born.
Then, one Monday morning, his sons’ school called to say the boys hadn’t shown up for class.
A Canada-wide arrest warrant for abduction was issued for their mother, and her name appeared on the RCMP’s most wanted list. York Regional Police allege the mother and children drove into the U.S. and then flew to Germany.
After that, the trail went cold.
After over two years, he’s finally located them in his ex-wife’s native Poland. He traveled to Warsaw and visited briefly with his two boys who looked much the same, but behaved very differently than before.
The short encounter was bittersweet.Another article reports it this way (CTV, 12/10/11).
“When I see my kids, they don’t call me daddy,” said Watkins. “They call me by my first name.” He accused his ex of brainwashing them.
“They looked the same after two-and-a-half years,” Watkins told CTV News Saturday in an interview from Poland. “But they looked very stressed out and they seemed very angry…I can understand it would be very confusing for children.”In short, the mother, who emotionally abused Watkins badly enough to lose custody and then abducted the children, seems now to be alienating them as well.
Canadian authorities issued an arrest warrant for Edyta Watkins when she first abducted the boys, but Canada and Poland have no extradition treaty, so her criminal wrongdoing will go unpunished as long as she remains in Poland.
That leaves the Hague Convention as Stephen’s only recourse to get his children back and away from their mother who appears to be willing to abuse anyone in her family in order to deprive her ex-husband of his children. Mental health professionals long ago identified parental child abduction as child abuse, and so it seems here. After only a few minutes with his boys, Watkins could tell their abduction, separation from him and possible alienation were causing the boys emotional/psychological harm.
But the more we see of the Hague Convention, the more frail a reed it appears on which to rely to protect children from exactly the type of abuse the Watkins boys have experienced. The Watkins case is a perfect example of one in which the Polish court should immediately order the children returned to their father. He’s the parent with primary custody and there’s evidence that the mother is less than fit. Into the bargain, she obviously wants to deny the children a father.
So the case is a slam-dunk win for Stephen Watkins, right? After all, his is exactly the type of case the Convention is supposed to address.
Not so fast. In the first place, even if the court issues the right order this Thursday when it hears the case, it’s so far taken no action to prevent the mother from absconding with the children again. You’d think that would be an obvious thing to do given the known facts of the case, but so far no order has been issued.
And when the court does hear the case, it can always decide that the children have gotten used to their new surroundings and it would therefore not be in their best interests to re-place them in their father’s care. We’ve seen British courts do that more than once recently under circumstances that made clear that the words “best interests of the child” were just a proxy for pro-mother bias.
What’s to prevent that in the Watkins case? Nothing that I can see. Maybe that’s why the title of the CTV article says the children are “in legal limbo.” Face it, the Convention is clear and Stephen Watkins’ rights are clear; so are his children’s. The only “legal limbo” is whether the Polish court will enforce those rights. Or will it fall back on the excuse that the boys have been in Poland for two of their 10 and 7 years and so, in some way, they need to remain there rather than returning to the country in which they’ve spent almost their entire lives?
You wouldn’t think a court could ignore all the obvious reasons to return the children to their father and to their home country, but we’ve seen it done too many times to hold out a lot of hope for Stephen Watkins and his boys.
We’ll see. So far, the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction seems to be violated by judges almost as often as by parents.