Honorable Minister Maneka Gandhi
The Ministry of Women and Child Development Government of India
We wish you and your family are in good health and commend you for taking on an important role for welfare of children in India. As parents, nothing is more important in our lives than our children. Unfortunately, for many mothers like us, our children are victims of International Parental Child Abduction (IPCA).
IPCA is child abuse and a crime, not committed by a stranger, but by the child’s parent or family member. Consequences on victimised children can range from parental alienation, and behavioural and emotional/psychological issues. As mothers, we strongly oppose such illegal and immoral acts, that harm innocent children and we urge you and the Government of India to recognise IPCA as a crime and ensure strict enforcement of laws to protect children. We therefore support the June 2016 release of the Draft IPCA Bill.
We are collectively reaching out to you personally, and to the Ministry of Women and Child Development, having our children painfully separated and alienated from us, seeking desperate help in reuniting with our children and seeking their safe and prompt return home to the United States.
Since our children’s abduction to India, we have had no access or very limited access, to our own children who we gave birth to and nurtured with tender love and care for several years.
While most of the mothers we represent are of Indian origin, several of us are not. All of our children are American citizens by birth and habitual residents of the United States, where they were raised before they were uprooted. All of us have lived with our children in the United States for several years. Many of us shared a marital home in the US with our husbands at the time of abduction. We worked hard for our families, either as breadwinners or as full-time homemakers. Many of us are victims of repeated domestic violence in the US, yet we suffered in silence for years only for the sake of our children. Then one day our husbands/ex-husbands committed the ultimate act of violence against us. Our children were snatched from our arms and wrongfully taken to India.
Upon reaching India, abducting parents have done everything in their power to deny access to our children and put legal and other roadblocks to prevent our children from returning home. Lack of awareness about IPCA and prevailing cultural perceptions and biases, add to the woes of left behind mothers and fathers. Despite lingering legal battles and multiple favourable custody orders from not from one but both nations (in certain cases), we have not been able to re-unite with our children. While grieving for our children, we have been left to fend for ourselves and take care of significant financial liabilities like home loans, credit card loans, car loans and substantial legal debt.
Our children are not only tutored at the hands the abducting parent and their family, but also systematically alienated from us due to prolonged separation during the pendency of legal proceedings in India.
Above all, we are gravely concerned about the psychological trauma our children are suffering as they continue to be deprived of their mothers. We put our heart and soul into creating a loving home for our families only to be deserted and abandoned in the end, not just by our estranged spouses, but also by our Governments, who have failed to deliver justice to victims of IPCA.
Voices of IPCA Victims Not Being Heard in India
While we are writing to you as mothers, victims of IPCA, we also speak on behalf of all left behind parents, whose children have been abducted to India. Bindu Phillips, Dr Samina Rahman and Ruchika Abbi, mothers of American children abducted to India had the honour and privilege to testify in US Congressional hearings between 2013 and 2016. In almost 40% of American children abducted cases to India, children are deprived of their loving mothers and in 60% of the cases, our children are being deprived of their loving fathers. As civilised societies, India and the United States must do more to change the status quo. Children and their wellbeing ought to be the primary objective of any policy decision on addressing the issue of IPCA.
Unfortunately, the voice of left behind parents, victimised children, and decades of research on the negative consequences on victimised children and families, appears to be sidelined in India. We have serious concerns about the characterisation of IPCA in India, primarily being the result of “flight from abuse” by mothers, to seek protection in India, deny the existence of IPCA and ignore the reality and suffering of victims of IPCA. The long-term and serious consequences on a generation of children deprived of a loving parent, regardless of gender, should not be acceptable in any society.
It is very disturbing for left behind mothers like us to see the recent misinformation campaign in India backed by vested interests of women’s groups, abducting mothers and their supporters, keen on preserving the status quo, justifying child abduction as an act of “fleeing” from alleged abuse in the country of habitual residence. These groups are opposing India’s accession to Hague Convention by giving a distorted perspective on the issue of IPCA, convoluting it with women’s rights as opposed to focusing on child’s rights. The Hague Convention, under Article 13 specifically, provides the authority to deny the return of a child to their country of habitual residence, if there is “grave risk” to the child. The notion that child will be sent back to “abusive” homes by The Hague Convention is factually inaccurate.
Critics of the Hague Convention in India, point to a Hague Convention and DV study by University of California Berkeley (UC Berkeley), which suggests that for the children abducted by mothers who fled abuse, in 50% of those cases the children were returned to “abusive” parent in their country of habitual residence. These claims and assertions by certain groups who have vested interests in India are not factually accurate. The UC Berkeley study had a very narrow focus and based on a very limited population size of 67 cases (22 child abduction cases which were spread over 10 years, and 47 US Court decisions involving IPCA and reference to domestic abuse) vs over 1,000 international child abduction cases reported from the United States each year. We would also like to highlight that the UC Berkeley study examined incoming cases of child abductions to the US from other nations, where mothers were seeking refuge under US law. It is ironic that many mothers of Indian origin who have abducted their children from the United States, claim they did not or could not receive assistance in the US for alleged abuse.
Based on a thorough review of the UC Berkeley study, it is evident that while the study is seeking to raise the awareness on an important issue, i.e. the intersection of International Parental Child Abduction and Domestic Violence, we must recognise that the study acknowledges that the vast majority of the child abduction cases do not meet the above parameter. Thus, we strongly urge the Government of India to view the totality of the evidence on IPCA, including engaging left behind parents, and recognise that wrongful removal or retention of children away from their country of habitual residence is not in the best interests of the children. We strongly urge the Government of India to base its policy decision on universally recognised principles and India’s own legal obligations under the UN Convention of Rights of Children to ensure that the rise of child abductions TO and FROM India are meaningfully addressed and that victims of this crime receive timely, consistent and fair justice in India.
We would also like to bring to your attention that western countries like the US strongly condemn Domestic Violence and provide several lawful means for immediate protection and relief to victims including those with any financial constraints. US Courts are well equipped to make custody determination for cases involving Domestic Violence, giving utmost importance to children’s welfare. For example under California law, a history of DV by a parent would result in that parent’s custodial rights being curtailed. This is also acknowledged in the UC Berkeley study. Most US states have similar provisions either by statute or child custody guidelines.
The truth of the matter is that while abducting mothers resort to misuse of gender-specific laws in India, abducting fathers avail of chronic delays in Indian Courts, lack of laws against parental child abductions and enforcement of both US and Indian court orders. These issues are well documented in Indian Supreme Court and High Court orders as well in publicly available reports.
The end result is that in the vast majority of the cases, the abducting parents, regardless of their gender, resort to judicial forum shopping, and are actually rewarded with child custody in India. Hence, having exhausted all legal options and deeply traumatised with the entire situation, we are reaching out to you, to recognise the urgency and severity of this issue, and request you to take prompt action to provide immediate relief to us and our children.
On behalf of victimised children and parents (both mothers and fathers) who have been suffering for years, we respectfully urge that the Ministry & the Government of India (collectively) take the following steps:
- Meet with left behind mothers and fathers from the US and other nations whose children are wrongfully retained in India to gain an understanding of the pain and suffering they have experienced due to IPCA;
- Take urgent actions, including intervening in legal proceedings within India, for return requests submitted by the US State Department in December 2015 and May 2016, to reunite our children with us and secure their safe and prompt return to the United States;
- As a humanitarian gesture, facilitate left behind parents living in the United State and other nations, to spend time with their children in India, while ensuring safety of the left behind parent, until our children are reunified. In many cases false criminal charges or extra-legal threats are made by the abducting parent/their family to deny access to our children; and
- Within 90 days, put in place requirement for children (younger than 18) traveling with one parent or non parent to obtain written consent letter, signed and notarisd by the non-traveling parent(s) for entry into India. This will significantly reduce instances of child abductions into India from other nations and spare the children and families the pain of illegal separation.
We believe the above actions are reasonable and consistent with India’s obligations under articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of Children (UNCRC) and India’s obligation towards respecting universal human rights.
As a mother yourself, we hope you will agree that nothing means more to us than our children’s welfare. Our children who are deceitfully separated from us, are at high risk of emotional, psychological or even physical harm. While our children suffer in silence, they don’t realise that they are being victimised by their own “parent” .
Honourable Minister, India’s rise as global power must not come at the expense of rule of law and justice. Time is of the essence, our children have been separated from us for years. Your strong personal commitment on this issue is critical in bringing our children home, and will go a long way to establish goodwill in the Indian American and the global community.
We will be happy to speak with you and/or your office in more detail about individual cases or the issue of IPCA at large. Thank you for your time and look forward to your response.
Ms Ruchika Abbi
On Behalf of Mothers of Children Abducted to India from the United States