India has agreed to reconsider its refusal to join an international agreement that makes parental child abduction an offence punishable with a jail term.
The women and child development (WCD) ministry has called a meeting of all stakeholders, including officials from home and external affairs ministry, on February 3 to discuss the Hague convention on civil aspects of international child abduction.
“We are considering what view to take on this (the convention) in light of the observations of the law commission, national and international stakeholders and a large number of women who have been affected,” WCD minister Maneka Gandhi told HT.
The ministry, after consulting the external affairs ministry, had last year decided against joining the treaty, which has 90 countries as its members. The Hague convention protects children under the age of 16 from “wrongful removal or retention” by a parent and ensures “their prompt return to the state of their habitual residence”.
There has been a steady rise in parental abductions as more and more Indians go abroad to work or study. Children often bear the brunt of their parents’ marital disputes and are often forced to return to India by one of the quarreling parents. In most cases, it is the mother who returns with the child.
“We went to the law commission to get their view. The commission wants India to ratify the treaty with some conditions,” a ministry official said.
Signing the treaty will ensure that the child is sent back to his/her country of residence with the parent, who would be tried for abduction in the country he or she fled from.
Besides the law commission, there was also pressure from the US, which reported maximum cases of child abduction, mostly by mothers, for India to join the treaty.
But, the government had refused, saying it would amount to victimising women escaping a bad marriage.
India will need a law in place at home to sign the Hague convention. Last year, the ministry was nudged into drafting the civil aspects of international child abduction bill by the Punjab and Haryana high court and law commission. But the bill is yet to get the cabinet nod. Punjab has a sizable population of people living abroad and marital disputes involving NRIs are common.
The law commission has recommended one year in jail for the offending parent. Once approved, the law will allow the “abducted” child to be sent back to the country or city where the child had been living and forcibly taken away from.
In the US and Europe, inter-parental child abduction is a serious offence, punishable with jail. Closer home, Sri Lanka, also a member of the Hague convention, has framed its own rules that allow the court to decide if a child should be sent back to the country from where she was removed.