November 18, 2015
Child abductions are increasing because of ease of mobility, according to the State’s Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Dr Geoffrey Shannon.
Dr Shannon told a conference on parental child abduction, held in Dublin yesterday, that as well as being a more mobile society, some 15% of marriages are bi-national.
“So inevitably when marriages break down, the area of abduction comes into sharp focus,” said Dr Shannon, adding that a key issue now emerging is the “grave risk defence” being used to prevent children being returned.
A frequently invoked defence used is that returning the child would expose him or her to physical or psychological harm, or would put the child in an intolerable position.
“The threshold should be high for ‘grave risk’ because what you don’t want is this defence being pleaded as a matter of course,” said Dr Shannon.
Creating a low threshold for grave risk subverts the law in the member state where the child is taken.
Dr Shannon said: “I am in no doubt that when a child is taken from a EU member state without lawful authority, a child should be immediately returned to the state from which the child has been abducted.”
He said the Brussels 11a Regulation, which specifies procedures regarding international child abduction, is unrealistic in requiring the disposing of such cases within six weeks.
“If you are going to hear the voice of the child and the parent seeking the return of the child, the six-week period is unrealistic,” he said.
“With the passage of the children’s rights referendum, the court has an obligation to hear the views of the child and give them due weight.”
Dr Shannon added that the fact it might be difficult to hear a child does not absolve a court from the responsibility of doing so: “That is something we should not lose sight of.”
The conference, held at the European Parliament offices, was organised by Mairead McGuinness, MEP and vice-president of the parliament and its mediator for international parental child abduction.
Ms McGuinness said that the conference was held ahead of a European Commission review of the Brussels 11a Regulation in the spring.
She said the regulation dealing conflict of law issues between member states, including international child abduction, is not working in the best interest of the child.
“Making sure an abducted child is returned safely within the correct timeframe is a huge issue,” she said.
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