CHILD SNATCHING. A MORAL MINEFIELD
UPDATE – Monday 8 October, 2012
The four Italian sisters at the centre of an international dispute between their Italian father and the Australian mother who absconded with them have arrived back in Italy.
But emotional scenes are ongoing, with the Australian media reporting today that two of the girls, aged between nine and 15, tried to escape from their grandmother’s property in Tuscany and also begged reporters for help.
According to the Daily Telegraph, the father also spoke to the assembled media, asked for “calm” and said, through an interpreter: ”I am destroyed because my daughters remain not well.” He also criticised the length of time it took – over two years – for the court to make its ruling that the girls should be returned to Italy.
“Because all that time has passed, it has created all this stress for the girls.”
Of the girls’ mother, he said: “I hope she comes here in peace. That is my wish. If she continues with the war and the struggles, it’s not going to help anything.”
According to Fairfax Media, a Facebook post by someone related to the family said: “The father and the family understand that it will require patience to re-establish the harmony the girls once experienced in Italy, and reverse the painful stresses they have endured in the last two years.”
LUCY CLARK looked into this issue last week…
Years ago I interviewed a man who snatched small children for a living.
He was as private detective in Brisbane, and a large part of his work was retrieving Australian children who had been abducted by one of their parents and taken overseas.
Just like the four Italian girls brought to Australia two years ago by their Australian mother, except in reverse.
The four Italian girls ‘abducted’ by their father. Photograph via The Brisbane Times.
By now most of you will have witnessed horribly distressing scenes of a mother having to watch as her traumatised and crying daughters were dragged onto an international flight in Brisbane after a court ruled that they must be returned to their Italian father and their homeland.
The mother had brought her girls to her homeland for a month’s holiday, and then failed to return, as was her legal obligation. In doing so, she contravened the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction.
Abduction is a strong word. And we might question its use in relation to a mother making a decision about where she wants to live with her children, but that’s what it is.
This is part of what I wrote after my Daily Telegraph interview with Keith Schafferius, the now retired private detective who was known in intelligence circles as “The Retriever.”
Every year in Australia, about 90 parents come home from work one day, or show up for a custody visit one weekend, or go to pick their kids up from kindy, to discover that their co-parent has absconded with their children and left the country.
The remaining parent, or the “left-behind parent” as they have come to be known, is suddenly and sickeningly plunged into emotional despair. Where are their children? Will they ever see them again? Where do they turn while their heads and hearts are spinning?
This is how the Italian father of the four girls would have felt when it became clear to him that his children would not be returning to Italy. He took legal action (rather than hiring a “retriever” for quicker results) and, more than two years later, justice has been served.
But at what cost to those girls?
And has their mother acted in their best interests? Has the court acted in their best interests? It must be said that there is no evidence that the father in this case is anything other than a loving father who just wants his girls back.
This is a dangerous moral minefield and one that Keith Schafferius was happy to walk into, driven by a strong sense of justice. When he decided to “re-abduct” a child who had been taken overseas by a parent, he was effectively taking a firm moral stance
within the constantly shifting highly emotional landscape of marital breakdown and custody battles.
He would do background checks on both parents, saying: “morally I like to think – I need to know in my own mind – that I’m doing the right thing by these children”.
He abhorred the practice of parents effectively kidnapping their own children, believing that many estranged parents put their own “spiteful” need for revenge before the essential rights of their children to know, and have relationships with, both their parents.
The case of the four Italian sisters (not Aussie sisters, as some headlines keep saying) is an extreme one. And extremely upsetting too, on all fronts. No-one could deny this mother’s pain; too much of it seems to have been recorded by television cameras.
The best interests of the child is, and always must be, at the centre of any custody dispute, yet how often do we see parents putting their needs first?
We’d love to hear what you think about this issue.