Huge rise in child abduction cases


“Huge rise in child abduction cases” screams the headline in today’s New Zealand Herald, sure to invoke images of children being dragged from the streets by persons unknown. But read the article and you’ll learn that these abductions are mostly parents taking their children out of the country without the consent of the other parent.

The Herald tells its readers the 54% jump in child abduction cases since 2007 is because parents are being refused legal aid to go before the courts and obtain permission to take their offspring out of New Zealand legally. What it doesn’t tell you is that many of those children are migrants to New Zealand – they hold foreign passports or were born outside of the country. Also, the rise in “abductions” corresponds with a rise in the overall numbers of people leaving New Zealand since 2007, brought on by the GFC and the Christchurch earthquakes.

What the article also doesn’t tell you is that there are hundreds of parents being held against their will in New Zealand because their partners refuse to give consent for their children to leave. In some cases these children were born into mixed marriages between kiwis and a foreigners, in others both parents are migrants. It is a sad fact of life that New Zealand courts rarely award custody to any parent who wants to remove their child from the country and there is no favour shown towards giving custody to mothers, regardless of how unfit the father may be. With New Zealand’s horrendous record for child abuse what right thinking parent is going to abandon their child and leave without them? Hence, many are forced into staying against their will to protect their children or face the prospect of “abducting” them.

With the knowledge that the courts are likely to favour the parent remaining in New Zealand increasing numbers of desperate parents (mostly mothers) are simply getting on a plane with their kids and never coming back. And who can blame them?

You may remember the story of four year old Emma Maddison, born to a Danish mother and Kiwi father, see

When Emma was a toddler her parents returned to Denmark so that she could have medical treatment that wasn’t available in New Zealand.

After a period of time the girl’s father returned to New Zealand but the couple’s relationship broke up and the mother decided to stay in Denmark with her daughter. The case highlighted the enormous difficulties parents have with custody of their children after a relationship breaks up and they want to live in different countries. Even though her father alleged she was abducted and taken from the country illegally the Danish Supreme Court declined to return her to her father’s homeland. We are sure this case gave fresh hope to parents looking to find justice outside of New Zealand, it may even have set a precedence under European law for the way the Hague Convention is applied to dual nationality cases.

If you or someone you know is affected by this issue you may wish to participate in our long running discussion Trapped In NZ – Father Won’t Let Child Leave


Japan is about to ratify the Hague Convention,  but with one important difference to some of the other G7 countries that have already encompassed the convention in their own legislation: the Hague proceeding should not cause children more harm than good.

If it wished to New Zealand could also make this important decision because what we’re hearing from our readers (and from the Emma Maddison story)  is in New Zealand the welfare of the child is subordinate to the rights of the parent who chooses to remain in New Zealand.

According to an article in the Miami Herald

Japan’s legislation is notable for another reason as well. It contains important and unique guidance to its courts concerning how to adjudicate allegations of domestic violence. Japanese judges must consider whether returning the child would risk violence to the child’s other parent and thereby cause serious psychological harm to the child. If it would, the child need not be returned in an expeditious proceeding pursuant to the Hague Convention.

Japan’s attention to domestic violence here is consistent with the Convention. The Convention allows a court to refuse to return a child if the return would cause a “grave risk of psychological or physical harm to the child or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation.” Japan’s law ensures that its courts take seriously this “grave risk” defense and how domestic violence impacts children. In Japan, a Hague proceeding should not cause children more harm than good. That is what the Convention drafters had in mind when they provided defenses.

In the coverage of the Emma Maddison case in the NZ press these statements from the father were published

Where are my human rights? It’s not my choice for Emma not to have her father in her life.”

“Two years later the case is still ongoing and Mr Maddison says he would do everything he could for his “wee girl”.

I deserve my daughter and it has taken over my life. My daughter is a victim in this and so am I.”  more here

Fortunately, Emma remains with her mother and is receiving the ongoing care she needs in Denmark. The Danish Supreme Court put her needs first.

2 thoughts on “Huge rise in child abduction cases

  1. “While the convention includes exceptions where a parent or child faces a grave risk, in practice courts generally presume child protection and domestic violence laws in the home country will protect them.” This is one of the problems. In a country like New Zealand, which has a serious problem with hidden child abuse, along with a lack of institutional capability to deal with it, the system is not working to protect children. So the presumption that a child who is sent back to New Zealand, or the presumption that a disempowered migrant parent who is having to cope with a native ex-parent’s own systems and family will be treated fairly in New Zealand, is wrong. Hague does not take this into account. It takes into account only the flimsy and superficial legal construct of “habitual residence”, which is a period of residence in New Zealand. It may not have been a happy or healthy period of residence for the child. The child may not be a Kiwi by birth or culture. But this does not matter within the framework of the Hague Convention. In its eyes, every signatory country’s court system and culture is the same in its handling of abuse. Which in real life, is not at all true. It is easy to lure a spouse or partner to New Zealand for “a better life” and simply hang on (even struggling, in misery, but with heels firmly dug in) until the easy goal of habitual residence has been achieved. Helps that the harder-working partner’s assets (move to New Zealand, you own half of whatever s/he has, see ) or attitude (slacker dads love New Zealand, because they can refuse to get jobs, stay home, plop the children down in front of a video, and smoke dope while harder-working partners who want to pay the rent and put food on their family’s table can be caricatured as “unfuzzy career women” in Family Court ) can be used against them.

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