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October 3, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

The problem of international parental kidnapping of children has gotten so bad that companies are now springing up to provide extra-legal services to recover them. Unsurprisingly, that shady enterprise has gotten some people arrested, most recently by Italian police in Palermo. Read about it here (Associated Press, 10/31/13).

Italian police said Thursday they have busted an international ring of former special forces agents hired to "recover" children involved in custody battles who were spirited across borders by one of their parents.

Palermo police said three Italians and a Ukrainian were arrested in Italy on kidnapping charges, and warrants were issued for two Norwegians and a Swede in custody in Tunisia.

Police said the investigation involves a Norwegian firm APB World Group Ltd., which allegedly charged thousands of euros (dollars) to recover children whisked out of countries by a parent who had lost a custody battle. Parents desperate to recover a child were turning to ABP World rather than pursue official channels, the police said.

Martin Waage, the CEO of APB World Group, disputed the police statement.

"We are not a child trafficking agency. We are a professional child security company," he said in a telephone interview. "We never use weapons. There's a lot of fantasy on the part of the Italian police. We are not wanted by Interpol."

That’s the whole of the article, so we obviously don’t yet know everything the company has been up to. But the fact that they apparently have been using Special Forces operatives from a variety of countries to locate and return the children suggests that pretty extreme methods were used.

Here’s ABPWorld Group, Ltd.’s website that makes little secret of what it does. According to it, there’s an “epidemic” of losers in custody battles abducting their children across international borders. (Is there anything that’s not an “epidemic” nowadays?) That of course is highly misleading as, I suspect, it’s meant to be.

Unlike in years past, it’s now mothers who make up the great majority of child abductors. Around the world, mothers are rarely non-custodial parents. Therefore, it’s highly likely that the majority of those abducting children aren’t mothers who’ve lost custody, but mothers who have been awarded primary custody. That’s certainly been the case in every international child abduction case I’ve dealt with on this blog. In all those cases, the mother kidnapped the child because she wanted to maintain control over the child and to marginalize the father in the child’s life. Every case has been one in which fit fathers had been bold enough to assert their parental rights and the mothers responded by acting illegally to deny those rights. In short, what the “epidemic” of parental child abductions across international borders looks like is the response of a few mothers to fathers asserting their rights to their children.

Why is that important in light of the arrests of the ABP employees? The ABP website would have us believe that all they’re doing is rescuing children from parents who’ve lost their custody battles and, rather than obeying the courts’ orders, took the children. That is, they’re helping to enforce existing court orders, albeit not at the direction of the courts.

And maybe that’s all they were doing. Then again, if the statistics on who abducts children are any guide, ABP was helping, not custodial parents, but non-custodial ones, i.e. mostly fathers. I doubt we’ll ever learn the truth about that, though.

What we do know is that there’s a market for what ABP is selling and their website doesn’t beat around the bush about it.

All too often, following the breakup of a marriage, one of the parents will abduct a child of that relationship against the wishes of the other parent, frequently removing them to a country where the child has probably never lived.

Although there are various civil remedies available to parents of abducted children, the challenges regarding parental abduction are enormous, including first and foremost, locating the child.

Unfortunately for the majority of targeted parents, the financial burden involved in recovery and litigation falls upon their shoulders. With tens of thousands of children abducted by parents each year, the reality is that too many of these children never come home. ABP World Group is dedicated to assisting those parents who need help in locating, rescuing, and returning their abducted child home safely. We offer worldwide services regarding parental abduction.

The none-too-subtle message is that the courts don’t work. Yes, targeted parents have their remedies under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, but those remedies are only as good as the courts that administer them. Time and again we see that’s not nearly good enough.

The Hague Convention envisions children being returned to their country of habitual residence within 60 days of the case being filed. Needless to say, that’s utter nonsense. In all the dozens of cases I’ve written about, not one even got close. Tomasso Vincenti’s case took almost three years. David Goldman’s took five.

Child abductors don’t have the best interests of the children at heart and often are bent on alienating the child from the other parent. The courts’ prodigious waste of time and resources only abet the alienation of the child. Time and again courts fail to grasp the most basic concept behind the Convention mdash; that signatory counties have procedures for sorting out child custody, claims of abuse and the like. Given that, the single inquiry by a court in the country to which the child has been abducted should be “What was the child’s place of residence prior to his/her abduction?” Once that’s decided, the child should be sent to that country for a decision about every other aspect of the case.

But courts don’t do that. They reflexively get involved in the merits of the claims of the parents. Who should have custody? Are claims of abuse founded? Is Mom or Dad a fit parent? Those are questions for the courts of the country of the child’s residence. In all likelihood, they’ve already been decided there and the kidnapper didn’t like the outcome.

That’s precisely what happened in the Vincenti case. His daughters had lived literally their whole lives in Italy, but once their mother, Laura Garrett got them to Australia, the courts there utterly ignored the fact that Italian courts had already decided custody and were fully capable of adjudicating Laura’s fraudulent claims of abuse by Tomasso. The result was three years of unnecessary expense and litigation in Australia during which Garrett and her mother pursued a campaign of the worst alienation of the girls.

It happens again and again, and that’s why ABP is offering its services. Want your kid back? Don’t rely on the courts or the law, just pay ABP and they’ll locate him/her and bring the child back to you safe and sound. My guess is their fee is a fraction (admittedly a large fraction) of what legal fees would run and that they get results in a fraction of the time. And after all, what’s an abducting parent going to do, complain that the other parent re-abducted the child to where he/she was supposed to be all along?

Like I said, what ABP is doing is likely illegal, but the larger picture is that it’s providing a service to a market that’s willing to pay. That market exists because the courts make such a hash of the Hague Convention. If targeted parents had real remedies through the courts, ABP would be in another business.

And it’s not like ABP is the only one. There are organizations in this country that do the same thing, albeit without such exotica as Special Forces on the payroll. And they generally re-abduct kids from Mexico, not worldwide as ABP claims.

The real message here, though, is for the courts construing the Hague Convention. Do your job as it’s meant to be done. Don’t bend over backwards to excuse the illegal behavior of abducting mothers. Just decide the child’s residence and return him/her to it. Simple as that.

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