Europe leads the way in child abduction cases
Each year around 170.000 international couples file for divorce within the European Union. These divorces often involve children. In some cases the conflict escalates to the point that one parent abducts the child to another country, taking away their right to contact with the left-behind parent for an extended period of time. In Belgium Child Focus dealt with over 500 cases of international child abduction in 2011; in Germany there were over 700 cases. Recently, a Danish father abducted his son from the child's Austrian mother on the way to kindergarten.
Within the EU as well as internationally, instruments were created to solve these cases legally. However, these judicial instruments work slowly and do not always succeed in discouraging parents from abducting their children. According to a Child Focus survey it takes an average of one year for an international child abduction case to come to be concluded. Furthermore, we have observed that amicable solutions between parents are achieved quicker and last longer.
An example: Let’s take the Belgian-German couple Céline und Bernd (names changed). After a major marital quarrel Céline took their young son Philip from their home in Munich to visit her parents in Brussels and did not return. Instead of turning to a court which would have made a decision for or against the return of the child based solely on legal considerations rather than the needs and interests of the child and his parents, Bernd and Céline turned to MiKK. There they could express their feelings of disappointment and helplessness, found a sympathetic ear and received competent advice. Most importantly, they were offered a way out of their seemingly impossible situation: mediation would enable them to find a constructive solution. MiKK organized mediation sessions in Brussels within two weeks with a Belgian and a German mediator. After two stormy days and 11 hours of mediation the parents came to an agreement that met the needs of all three. Most of all, little Philip is happy to have both parents back again now!
Mediation is an excellent instrument to support parents in this process. However mediation in an international setting requires specialized knowledge and skills. Cross-border family mediators must know and understand the relevant international judicial instruments. They must be able to work constructively with different cultures and languages in high conflict situations and facilitate realistic solutions to bridge large distances.
For the past two years Child Focus, MiKK (Mediation in International Conflicts involving Parents and Children), the Catholic University of Leuven and the Dutch Child Abduction Centre have trained mediators from all EU Member States in international family mediation. In a 60-hour training they were taught a bi-national, bi-cultural, bi-lingual and bi-professional mediation model and practiced international cooperation. Even a few candidate member states sent mediators to this training. The project was funded by the European Commission.
This Network will assist parents in finding solutions that meet with the cross-border character of their conflict as in the case described above. Furthermore, it will be used to help solve international child abduction cases and support all involved professionals in this field.