This week Special Assignment investigates the vulnerability of children born from inter-marriages between South African and foreign nationals and the extent to which the gaps in the country’s border controls and the criminal-justice system allow children to be abducted, in these cases by their own parents.
When the distraught parents featured in our story tried to report their children missing to the police, they were all allegedly sent away. In fact, our case studies report that police officers at various stations refused on dozens of occasions to open cases. The reason? The child was abducted by their other parent – even if they insist that they were taken out of the country without their knowledge or consent – the police allegedly insist that they are former or estranged spouses who also have rights to their children.
International parental abduction is regarded as a civil offense and not a criminal matter in South Africa and governed by the International Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which South Africa ratified. International parental child abduction affects thousands of families locally. Lawyers, advocates and private investigators who spoke to Special Assignment believe it’s a growing trend as more inter-marriages between people from different countries get married and have children together. However, our police and courts seem ill-equipped to deal with these cases, often written off as protracted custody battles.
Yet the affected South African mothers and fathers are left broken, running into brick walls as the system keeps shutting them out, many of them not having had any contact with their children for years.
When Bridget left for China in 2009 with her 4-year old son and Chinese-national husband to visit his family, she never considered that it was a ploy to abduct her son. Once the toddler was taken while she was asleep, he was transported to a rural village where he was given to his paternal grandmother who became his legal foster parent – a common custom in China. In a foreign country with little financial support and a huge cultural and language barrier and after her visa expired, Bridget was forced to leave without her son. Despite opening several police cases in South Africa over the years, and reporting the matter to the Hawks, Interpol, the Department of Home Affairs’ crime unit and several other government departments, and despite obtaining an urgent high court order to get her son returned, Bridget’s son will soon turn ten and she still has never laid eyes on him since he was taken from her.
This and other similar stories are investigated in this week’s episode. We also look at the role that South Africa’s National Family Court is supposed to play in this regard. Under the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction, the Family Court has been appointed the central agent to deal with these matters and to facilitate between other government bodies, to act in the best interest of the abducted child. Yet there seems to be little knowledge, willpower or skills displayed by our police, Interpol, courts and government departments to adequately deal with these abduction cases.
Watch “TAKEN” produced by Adel van Niekerk, to be aired this Sunday, 1 November 2015 at 20h30 on SABC 3. Repeated Wednesdays at 23h30.