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Despite distressing scenes of a mother screaming for her children at Brisbane’s international airport on Thursday morning, advocacy groups say the Family Court has made the right decision in sending the girls at the centre of a custody battle back to Italy.
On Monday the Family Court dismissed the mother’s last ditch attempt to keep her four daughters in Australia after she brought them here two years ago from Italy, ostensibly for a short holiday.
The Brisbane court ruled the children, aged between nine and 15, be returned to their father in Italy and they were immediately taken into the custody of the Queensland Department of Communities.
The girls’ distraught mother was seen yelling out to her screaming daughters around 3:30am on Thursday as they were escorted onto a plane by police and an official from the Italian embassy.
Two of the girls were highly emotional and were removed from the morning flight by Australian Federal Police.
They were returned to the airport on Thursday afternoon and boarded an Emirates flight bound for Italy just before 9:00pm.
The mother was at the airport to bid her remaining daughters farewell, but it is understood police arranged for a private boarding to avoid this morning’s emotional scenes.
The Family Court found there were no exceptional circumstances allowing it to disregard Australia’s obligations under the Hague Convention.
The judge said the children loved their father and he had not heard evidence to support allegations he was abusive.
The legal action has run for more than a year and men’s rights advocates say the court was correct to uphold the rules of the Hague Convention.
Men’s Rights Agency director Sue Price says while the mother is grieving, she should not have flouted the law.
“It’s understandable that the mother would be distressed about the children going back to Italy but this is something that she needs to come to terms with,” she said.
“It was her objections in the first place that delayed this process – in her claims that there was domestic violence and it was never proven, and that the father had given her permission which he hadn’t.”
Ms Price says the father has been trying to abide by the Hague Convention rules throughout the ordeal.
“I applaud the decision because it is honouring our commitment to the Hague Convention and this is really important because it is the only avenue there is for the recovery of children from any country where they’ve been taken to,” she said.
The father’s solicitor Paul Donnelly says the court decision will have ramifications for many other parents.
“The real point to be made in this is that in Australia, we must remember that the ratio of children leaving Australia is five to two,” he said.
“Five Australian children are taken overseas compared to two children that are brought into Australia.
“So Australia’s got a vested interest in ensuring these Hague conventions are complied with, otherwise we won’t get our own children back.”
Courting the media
The Men’s Rights Agency also welcomed the rebuke the Family Court gave the mother about her courting of media attention for her case.
Family law experts have also questioned the extensive media coverage of the case.
The president of the Family Law Practitioners’ Association of Queensland, Deborah Awyzio, says cases that canvass serious issues of child abuse get far less or no media attention.
Ms Awyzio also says there is almost no focus on the other 20 or so Hague Convention matters that go through Queensland courts each year.
“It’s disproportionate, definitely,” she told PM.
“And I think it arises as a result of direct involvement by people involved in the litigation.
Meanwhile, a UK-based support group for parents says the number of international abductions is growing.
Alison Shalaby is chief executive of Re-Unite International, a UK charity that offers advice and guidance to parents whose children have been abducted, and to parents who have abducted their own children.
“It’s certainly a hugely growing problem. Last year for example there were 512 abduction cases reported to our advice line. We saw last year a 47 per cent increase in the number of cases reported into us,” she said.
Ms Shalaby says no matter what happens in these complex cases, the children suffer most.
“There’s an impact on children the minute that they are abducted and that’s why we have the Hague Convention in place because there is this presumption that damage is caused to the children at that point of abduction. There are no winners in these cases and the real victims are the children,” she said.
“My own daughter was abducted when she was seven-and-a-half and she’s now 28 and she will openly say to me that much as she loves me, she blames me as much as she does her father who abducted her to Egypt.
“It had such an impact on her life and she blames us both for it because we were her parents. It was nothing to do with her.”
First posted Thu Oct 4, 2012 4:45pm AEST