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Calls to criminalise parental child abduction -

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Calls to criminalise parental child abduction

Ashley Hall reported this story on Monday, November 23, 2009 12:30:00

ELEANOR HALL: The Family Law Reform Association of New South Wales is calling on the Federal
Government to make it a crime for a parent to take a child out of Australia without the other
parent's consent.

About 150 children are taken overseas without permission each year. The association says this is a
form of child abuse and that the number of children being subjected to it is alarming.

As Ashley Hall reports, the law reformers have written to the Federal Attorney-General, asking him
to stop the abductions.

ASHLEY HALL: It's the sort of thing that most parents don't think about, until it happens. It
certainly hadn't occurred to the deputy commissioner of the New South Wales Fire Brigades, Ken

KEN THOMPSON: In April 2008, my son Andrew was kidnapped from Australia by his mother. They left
the country, went to Singapore, then to Germany and they since disappeared without any trace.

ASHLEY HALL: Andrew Thompson is one of about 150 children who are abducted from Australia by a
parent each year. It's so common, there's an acronym for it: International Parental Child Abduction
becomes IPCA.

KEN THOMPSON: Oh, you know, I just never imagined anything like this would happen.

ASHLEY HALL: So there no hints, no clues?

KEN THOMPSON: Nothing at all. My wife was behaving very, very strangely in December 2007. She was
preventing me from having any contact with Andrew whatsoever. She then started to make some very,
very serious allegations. I then took her to court to be able to resume my relationship with my son
and to have her allegations investigated.

ASHLEY HALL: Part way through the court process, Ken Thompson's wife fled the country with their
child because she left during a court case, Mr Thompson was able to convince police she'd breached
the Family Law Act, and he did get some help.

KEN THOMPSON: Because a crime hadn't been committed under the Crimes Act, there was a lot of
uncertainty about what the authorities could actually do and that is when I realised there is a
massive hole in our legislation.

The vast majority of children who are abducted from Australia, are abducted outside the Family
Court process and in those cases, thorough investigations can't be done because no crime has been

ASHLEY HALL: So the Family Law Reform Association in New South Wales has written to the
Attorney-General, asking him to make international child abduction a crime.

And the Coalition of Parents of Abducted Children is well behind that call. Ken Thompson is the
coalition's spokesman.

KEN THOMPSON: If it was a financial crime, property crime, passports would have been cancelled,
Interpol alerts would have been issued, telephone taps would probably have been put in place but
because it is not a crime, or not seen as a crime under the Crimes Act, not of that could be done.

ASHLEY HALL: But is it in the best interests of the child and the parents to prosecute these
matters in a criminal court?

KEN THOMPSON: Look, it doesn't matter which way you cut this. If you abduct a child from a country
and remove it from its parents, its other parent and its extended family and its culture, it is one
of the most extreme forms of child abuse that you can inflict upon a child.

HELEN FRERIS: It is very distressing and parents experience a great deal of grief and worry and
anxiety relating to the welfare of their children.

ASHLEY HALL: Helen Freris is the international parental child abduction service coordinator at
International Social Service Australia.

HELEN FRERIS: And of course, prior to the actual abduction, the level of conflict in families is
characterised as being very high indeed with a lot of very complex dynamics going on.

ASHLEY HALL: Helen Freris says the current framework based on the 1980 Hague Convention on the
civil aspects of international child abduction, is a better way to deal with the problem than
taking it to the criminal courts. She says it would work better if more countries signed up to the

HELEN FRERIS: Criminalising an event like IPCA could perhaps result in the criminal law system
having to deal with highly complex and emotive issues between people that are better dealt with in
the family law system.

And as for the deterrent, the concerns we have would be that it might in fact cause parents and
children to go underground and it would be ultimately not beneficial to children to have a parent

ELEANOR HALL: That is Helen Freris, of International Social Service Australia, ending Ashley Hall's
report and so far the Federal Attorney-General has not commented on the call.