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Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Russia

Does Russia Abduct American Children?

By Andrei Sitov

Translated By Olga Kerzhner

2 June 2011

Edited by Gillian Palmer

Russia - Rossiyskaya Gazeta - Original Article (Russian)

U.S. authorities currently have 25 cases of a parent abducting a child and exporting that child to Russia. These 25 cases deal with a total of 28 children. The opposite scenario, where parents take children from Russia and hide them in the U.S., has not been reported. That's the answer I received from the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs in response to a request for relevant statistics.

The request was prompted by the popular belief that Americans, especially fathers, supposedly frequently bring children into the U.S. without the consent of the other parent and then get custody of those children through the U.S. courts. Even if that's the case, at least the U.S. State Department's official statistics do not confirm this. Apparently, even if the Russian agency which specializes in these matters, the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation, keeps track of such statistics, it does not make them public.

The occasion for recalling this topic was the National Missing Children's Day, which is observed in the United States. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement to the press, stressing that international parental child abduction "deeply concerns" her. According to Clinton, "last year, parents abducted nearly 2,000 children to or from the United States." Also according to the statement, American authorities have helped more than 575 children return home, "both in the United States and in countries around the world."

Clinton urged foreign governments to become party to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. In Russia, by the way, the State Duma has very recently adopted a law acceding to the convention. But it is up to Moscow whether it will be retroactive and whether it will apply to the cases mentioned above.

On the eve of National Missing Children's Day, Congress held hearings on this topic. I attended them and did not regret it; they thoroughly moved thoughts and feelings. The general impression was something like this: when a divorcing couple cannot share custody of children, the result is a family drama in which everyone suffers, but when the governments try to share these children at their level, it turns out even worse.

Emotional intensity at the hearings was incredibly high. Suffice it to say that a slender young mother, whose Turkish husband took her son to his homeland, was not the only one who cried on the witness stand. So did a mighty bodybuilder — a sheriff and former Marine sergeant — whose Japanese wife did the same thing to him. And when one of the witnesses read a collective petition to the U.S. Secretary of State and asked the rest of the abandoned spouses/parents to stand, almost everyone in the room stood up along with him. By the way, only a small portion of those present was able to fit into the room.

Incidentally, this witness was the only speaker who managed to bring his son back (from Brazil). He warmly thanked his defenders from the administration and Congress, who, for his sak,e threatened the Latin American country with exclusions from billion-dollar trade preferences. However, by his own admission, his son was returned to him only after the death of the child's mother.

Nevertheless, the threat of U.S. sanctions was discussed at the hearings as the main method for influencing foreign partners. One witness, whose ex-wife took their children to Egypt, demanded from the presiding chairman, Rep. Christopher Smith, that until his children are returned, Cairo should not be given a penny from the currently promised multi-billion dollar aid. Smith, who heads the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health and Human Rights and the Helsinki Commission, did not promise this directly. On the plus side, however, he reported that he once again introduced legislation on the prevention of international child abduction, which includes 18 different punishments for non-complying countries, from diplomatic demarches to refusals of bilateral aid and loans from the IMF.

His colleague, Ann Marie Buerkle, passionately asked witnesses who specifically in the U.S. State Department was handling their cases and wrote their names in her notebook in order to influence these American diplomats later. Incidentally, overall, these diplomats were mainly under fire for allegedly not defending the interests of their compatriots aggressively enough.

Judging by the witnesses at the hearings, children from the United States are most frequently taken to Mexico and other Latin American countries as well as Japan and Germany. Presumably, that's because these countries have had large contingents of U.S. troops for a long time, and there are a lot of mixed marriages. It turns out that the Japanese do not return contested children to the United States at all and do not participate in relevant international conventions.

Joshua Izzard from Chicago spoke about Russia. His wife took their infant daughter to Perm. He vividly depicted the unimaginable lawlessness of certain Russian authorities (from the embassy staff to the judges), his fear of going to Perm due to death threats and the monsters — simultaneously alcoholics, debauchers, sectarians and also members of the special forces — under whose control his ex-wife and baby daughter ended up.

After the hearing, Izzard allowed me to see the official response to the State Department's inquiry about Izzard's case from the consular department of the Russian embassy in Washington. The response had a clear and detailed explanation as to why the diplomats had no reason to prevent the departure of a Russian citizen to her homeland with a small child who, incidentally, also has Russian citizenship.

It is understandable that the abandoned spouses/parents have terrible pain and resentment within their soul. Often, they evoked sympathy. In their telling of the family drama stories, truth and justice were entirely on their side.

In life, however, that does not happen, and adults, even the politicians in Congress, should understand this. They should also understand that the decisions of U.S. courts are not "international law" which is allegedly being violated by other countries' courts that are also just taking their citizens' side. The most formidable demands of "return our American children" will ring hollow because these children are just as much other nations'.

By the way, while reveling in their grief and anger, the hearing's participants almost never mentioned the children's interests. The default assumption was that if the children are torn from the hands of those "abductors" (this was the only word used in this context) and returned to America, they would be satisfied and happy.

A true mother, as we remember from the biblical parable, gave up her child to save him. Where can we get a new King Solomon, who would also wisely decide contemporary debates on the same old topic?






2 Responses to “Does Russia Abduct American Children?”

  1.  Vote: Add rating 11  Subtract rating 0   Artemus Says:

    Rus­sia has now acceded to the Hague con­ven­tion against child abduc­tion:
    But as the arti­cle in the link points out, the first reported abduc­tion case so far after acces­sion, Mar­i­anne Grin who abducted chil­dren from Italy, will say a lot about whether Rus­sia is seri­ous about this com­mit­ment.

  2.  Vote: Add rating 2  Subtract rating 0   Alex Says:

    For those who think that Russ­ian courts ignore inter­na­tional laws, the Mar­i­anne Grin case may prove the oppo­site: that the Russ­ian legal sys­tem is far more robust and pro­fes­sional than is often given credit.
    Accord­ing to a Russ­ian legal blog, the dis­trict court of St Peters­burg has ruled that the Ital­ian pro­ceed­ings that Grin was par­tic­i­pat­ing in, and that issued a cus­tody decree to the father, should gov­ern the domi­cile of the chil­dren.
    The arti­cle rightly says that: “The judg­ment strongly refutes fairly com­mon… pub­lic opin­ion about the prej­u­dice that, in the case of a dis­pute between a husband-foreigner and Russ­ian woman, a Russ­ian court must make a deci­sion in favor of the lat­ter against a for­eign hus­band. More­over, the deci­sion as a whole reflects the con­fi­dence expressed by the Russ­ian judge in respect of his Ital­ian col­leagues. To a cer­tain extent it is made in accor­dance with one of the main objec­tives of pri­vate inter­na­tional law: the need to coor­di­nate the legal and judi­cial sys­tems of dif­fer­ent coun­tries and the desire to elim­i­nate poten­tial con­flicts between them.“
    If you look at some of the com­men­tary about Russ­ian courts, you will see there have been notice­able improve­mens in recent years. The Grin case is merely recog­ni­tion of the uni­ver­sal doc­trine of liz pen­dens. But the fact that the judge applied the law even though it went against a Russ­ian cit­i­zen…
    Russia’s courts may be more reli­able than credit has been given.

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