THEIR marriage had become marred by arguments, but when his wife wanted to travel overseas after her grandmother died, Dimitrios Laskos did not object.
Neither did he oppose her taking their 11-month-old son Panagiotis to her native Poland for a few weeks. But when she did not return for his first birthday, Mr Laskos became concerned. Two years later, he is still waiting.
This week, a Polish court is to decide whether Panagiotis, an Australian citizen, should be returned to Sydney.
Since he was taken by his mother, Panagiotis has been renamed Piotr and been baptised a Catholic even though the couple had agreed on a Greek-Orthodox baptism. Mr Laskos has only seen him for a few minutes. ”For Greeks always the first son of the family is very important,” he explains.
Imagine the outrage, says Mr Laskos, if a Greek or Lebanese father abducted his child and changed his name and religion. ”Always the fathers are the victims. They give too much power to the woman in this country. Why don’t they make [it] a crime, this situation?”
Under the Hague Convention on child abduction, which Australia and Poland have signed, the removal of a child is wrong if it breaches custody orders or parenting was exercised jointly. But it is no crime in Australia to remove your child where no orders exist.
When the convention was drawn up in 1980, 70 per cent of child abductions were committed by fathers, said Waldemar Drexler, the lawyer for Mr Laskos’s wife, Malgorzata Muchowska.
Now 87 per cent of abducted children are taken by mothers, says the federal Attorney-General’s Department, which helps parents enforce the convention. A spokesman said there was no plan to make child abduction a crime.
In the first 11 months of this year 88 children were abducted from Australia, and 77 were taken from their usual residence to Australia.
Mr Drexler, who thinks the convention is outdated, says: ”The mothers are taking the children overseas to the country where they lived before. We can’t say the child suffers harm because the child is more in touch with the mother who spends much more time with the child.”
The battle over Panagiotis has been nasty with both sides accusing each other of lying to the Polish court. Mr Laskos says his wife made false accusations that he had mistreated her. He says his only criminal record is for driving matters.
Mr Drexler says Mr Laskos has lied in court about owning a property, and has been forced to admit it belonged to his aunt. ”My client says the child’s father does not have any resources to support the child,” he said. ”It’s not fair for her to take a child from a good environment … the family [in Poland] is well-to-do … then to bring him back to Australia where everything is foreign to him, language, culture, father. He won’t recognise anything.”
But a family centre in Catholic Poland concluded after a psychological assessment: ”A solution favourable for the child would be the mother’s return with him to Australia.”
Mr Laskos says he would financially support his wife and child if they returned. Then they could sort out divorce and custody arrangements ”here in Australia where we started our lives together”.
”Slowly, slowly I want him to get to know me. After six to seven years I will take him full time. He does not know English. He does not know Greek,” Mr Laskos says.
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