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Pakistan signs convention to prevent parental abductions

Updated December 21, 2016

WASHINGTON: Pakistan has joined a group of 95 states committed to protecting the interests of children in matters relating to their custody, the Pakistan Embassy announced on Tuesday.

President Mamnoon Hussain had on Dec 15 signed the instrument of accession for The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, paving the way for Pakistan’s formal entry into the group.

The convention strives to protect children internationally from harmful effects of their wrongful removal or retention and establishes procedures to ensure their prompt return to the State of their habitual residence. It also secures protection for rights of access.

“The convention will make it easier for families to bring their children to Pakistan or to relocate their children to a foreign domicile,” the embassy said.

The convention received almost unanimous approval from the ministries of law, finance, information and foreign affairs. The relevant ministries of the four provincial governments have also endorsed the convention, which now goes before the federal cabinet for a formal endorsement.

The only dissenting note had come from the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), which said that the parents had the right to move their children to any location and should not need the state’s approval to do so. The council had also objected to the Women’s Protection Act and the Honour Crimes Bill and as with those two bills, the government decided to ignore the CII’s protests on this issue as well.

The government argued that the convention would help Pakistani children stranded abroad, particularly those whose parents are dual or foreign nationals.

Since Pakistan was a non-signatory state, the United States and some other Western nations carried warnings on their travel sites, stating that children could be detained there against their will.

The Hague convention was concluded in October 1980 and came into force in 1983. Earlier, 95 nations had signed the convention. Pakistan, which becomes the 96th state to join the group, had neither signed nor ratified it.

The Hague convention applies to children below 16 years of age and offers protection to them from the harmful effects of abduction and retention across international boundaries by providing a procedure to bring about their prompt return. The treaty intends to ensure safer return of an abducted child to the country of habitual residence, where the child was born or of which he/she is a national. This means that legal disputes for a child’s custody and access could be decided by the court of the country to which the child belongs.

Under the convention, removal of a child from one country to another is considered a crime of abduction or kidnapping because it is considered “detrimental to the child’s life, wellbeing and best interests”.

The convention recognises that a forcibly removed child may have to face situations that could threaten his or her safety and well-being. These include identity change, health neglect, frequent travel and movement, loss of or unstable education, unstable living conditions, psychological or, emotional distress and cultural shock. Such removals also deprive another legal parent from his/her child.

The forced removal of children became a major issue for Pakistan because of increasing migration of Pakistan to the West where they engaged in multi-cultural and multi-national marriages.

Since divorce rates in marriages are high, separation between couples lead to an increase in trans-national parental child abduction.

Under the existing Pakistani laws, a legal parent can bring in or take a child out of the country without the consent of other legal parent, if the intention is not mala fide. Such disputes are dealt as matters of custody and not abduction.

Most of such disputes involve Pakistanis living in the United Kingdom. In 2008, 11 cases of forced removal to Pakistan were reported in Britain, 24 cases were reported from April 2009 to March 2010, and 55 cases in 2011. Some cases of parental child abduction were also reported between France and Pakistan and between Canada and Pakistan.

Published in Dawn December 21st, 2016