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Child Abduction

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A recent case in the family court has shown the increased level of danger for children who are trapped in a country that is not party to the Hague Convention on Child abduction. The Hague Convention of 25 October 1980 on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is a treaty which seeks to increase the protection of children by providing a procedure to bring about their prompt return from reciprocating jurisdictions.

In a case described by Justice Paul Cronin as “the sort of stuff you see in the movies”, a Melbourne woman and her daughter remain trapped in Egypt as a result of a travel ban preventing them from leaving – a ban requested by the husband.

The dispute occurred after the wife and husband agreed to leave the child for a short period in Egypt with the husband’s family. After two months, the child was yet to be returned to Australia. Concerned for the child’s safety, the wife travelled to Egypt with a so-called “child-recovery specialist” and, during a visit with her husband’s family, snatched the child and attempted to return her back to Australia. In the meantime, it is alleged that the wife arranged to have the husband imprisoned on a boat off the North Queensland Coast and later dumped in Cairns.

When the wife attempted to make her return trip back to Australia with the child, however, she was blocked by an official travel ban placed upon on her and her daughter to stop them leaving Egypt.

While the Family Court of Australia does not have any power to lift the Egyptian travel ban, it ordered the husband to have the ban lifted, stripped him of his passport and put him on the Australian Federal Police’s airport watch list to ensure he could not flee the country.

In yet another twist, it was later discovered that the husband remarried in June 2012 to a woman living in Egypt, strongly suggesting the husband had a motive for keeping the child in Egypt in the first instance.

Most recent reports indicate that the husband has still failed to lift the ban against his estranged wife and daughter. To make matters worse, as Egypt is not party to the Hague Convention on Child abduction, the matter could take many years to resolve, if resolved at all.

While the Hague Convention would not guarantee the safe return of a child, it would compel the Central Authority in the country in which the child was abducted to cooperate with Australian authorities, and therefore speed up the process. For example, Article 7 and 21 of the Convention impose obligations on the Central Authorities of each country to take all appropriate measures to secure access to the child, and to remove any obstacles that may prevent access. At present, the Australian Government has said that there is nothing more they can do to help.