Child custody and abduction has become a big problem in little China. Experts argue about 80,000 children in China are estimated to have been abducted and hidden in divorce cases in 2019. Newly passed family laws in China may help resolve this problem.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Child
As CNN reports, the child abductions mostly involved fathers snatching their sons aged six years old and under. Although the 80,000 estimate is based on 2019 divorce figures, legal experts say it reflects a consistent trend seen each year – and the real figure may be much higher, since many cases might not be publicly available or settled out of court.
China is proposing a new child protection law making it illegal for parents to “snatch and hide” their children to win custody battles. The amendments, which go into effect on June 1, were praised by some as a crucial step in protecting children and mothers.
But years of loose regulations and a hands-off approach by Chinese authorities have sowed doubts as to whether a new law will change anything, say experts on family law and parental abduction.
In many cases, the abducting parent moves and hides the children, typically with the help of their parents or family members. The left behind parent, usually the mother, is blocked from seeing their child because they don’t even know where their child is.
Florida Child Custody and Child Abduction
I’ve written and lectured on the problem of child abductions before. My new Florida Bar Journal article Like Home: The New Definition of Habitual Residence, discusses child abductions under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, Oct. 25, 1980 and the federal International Child Abduction Remedies Act.
In Florida there are a few civil laws helping parents who are the victim of child snatching. There are also criminal laws at the state and federal levels which can result in prison time.
Florida adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. The law was intended to make it harder for parents to snatch their children and take them across state lines to a state more likely to rule in their favor.
The Hague Convention is a treaty our county signed to deter child abductions by eliminating their primary motivation for doing so: to “deprive the abduction parent’s actions of any practical or juridical consequences.”
So, when a child under 16 who was habitually residing in one signatory country is wrongfully removed to, or retained in, another signatory country, the Hague Convention provides that the other country: “order the return of the child forthwith” and “shall not decide on the merits of rights of custody.”
The removal or the retention of a child is to be considered wrongful where it is in breach of rights of custody attributed to a person, an institution or any other body, either jointly or alone, under the law of the State in which the child was habitually resident immediately before the removal or retention; and at the time of removal or retention those rights were actually exercised, either jointly or alone, or would have been so exercised but for the removal or retention.
Joyless Bad Luck Club
In China, joint custody is rare. Usually after a breakup, children go with one parent rather than as co-parents. The tradition of a parent taking a child away from the other parent, when there’s a parental separation, is something that’s been in existence for a long time.
In China, it is suspected that in “at least half” of divorce disputes regarding child custody, parents “hide the children for various reasons.
Under the new family law, “it is not allowed to compete for custody rights by snatching or hiding underage children.” Those who violate the articles may “bear civil liability in accordance with the law,” or face unspecified penalties, according to the law.
Women have since been speaking out about their experiences with abusive partners or child abduction, with some high-profile cases helping increase visibility around the issue. Even government officials have spoken out in support of changing the marriage and custody law, including a delegate of the National People’s Congress.
There are additional steps that could be taken — providing protections for visitation rights during the divorce period, or laying out clearer standards on which behaviors constitute “snatching and hiding” children, said Chen, the chief of the Guangzhou court, in the Xinhua article.
By 2019, the amendments to the law were already being drafted and deliberated by the country’s legislative body, though the final articles still fell short of clearly defining the parameters and repercussions of the offence.
For mothers who have lost custody or visitation of their children, the new law comes too late.
The CNN article is here.