The Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction was created to protect children from being abducted and taken away from their home countries. But, as Misha Valencia observes in a July 20, 2020 WhoWhatWhy article, abusers are now using this treaty as a way to manipulate the courts and regain custody of their children.
An analysis of Hague cases and court decisions found “that an overwhelming number of ‘abductors’ were really mothers escaping abuse—and that the majority of them were forced to return their children” to abusive partners. Children’s fear of abusive fathers, as well as mothers’ claims of abuse, are often dismissed or not believed. According to psychotherapist Sarah Gundle, “[T]he intention of this treaty was to protect children, but, in reality, the legal system and the Hague Convention often fail to understand the principles of trauma and how they play out for abuse survivors and vulnerable children.”
With 101 countries participating in this treaty, the repercussions of this problem are truly global. Article 13(b) of the Hague Convention allows for exceptions to be made, if a child’s return home might expose them to physical or mental trauma. In instances of domestic violence, Gundle explains, “batterers frequently take their anger out on their children” when their spouse is no longer present. In 2020 the Hague Commission issued a “Guide to Good Practice” which emphasized the importance of Article 13(b) but failed to acknowledge that many survivors of abuse are too afraid to report abuse for fear of disbelief, embarrassment, or shame. Without a history of filing claims, mothers and children fleeing from abusive environments generally cannot meet a strict standard of proof for court cases. Studies show that abusers were able to argue that the victim is unfit for sole custody of their child in 70 percent of challenged custody cases, as pointed out by the American Judges Association.
As of May 25, 2021, corporate news media coverage of international abductions has been limited in both quantity and depth of coverage. Existing corporate news reporting tends to focus on countries joining the treaty or on individual abduction cases as they relate to the news publications’ country or locale. For instance, a USA Today piece from June 2019 examined a child custody battle between a mother in Ohio and a father residing in Italy. A Cleveland.com article from February 25, 2020 covered the results of that case. An August 2020 New York Times article by David Yaffe-Bellany, “The Three Abductions of N.,” briefly mentioned the treaty. The article’s focus, however, was on examining how certain individuals and organizations have found a way to profit from abduction recoveries. Overall, the corporate media have not paid adequate attention to a flawed treaty that has sent hundreds of children around the world back into the custody of abusive parents.
Misha Valencia, “Treaty Created to Stop Child Abductions Could Now be Protecting Abusers,” WhoWhatWhy, July 20, 2020.
Student Researchers: Meredith Chapple and Maricella Chavez (Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame)
Faculty Evaluator: Helen K. Ho (Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame)
Illustration by Anson Stevens-Bollen.