Australia has the highest rate per capita of international parental child abductions in the world.
Airdate: 
Tuesday, May 1, 2012 - 20:30
Channel: 
SBS

With the rise in inter-country marriages, some experts believe there is an increased need to protect children caught between feuding parents after a relationship breakdown.

There are some existing protections: Australia is a party to the 'Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction’ which mediates international custody disputes. Under these agreements, if a parent unlawfully takes a child overseas they can be ordered back to the country of residence so the local courts can figure out what to do.

But if a child is taken to a country that isn’t a signatory to the convention (including Japan, Lebanon and China), it’s extraordinarily difficult for the other parent to get them back. And even if the country is a signatory, it’s not always possible to locate the child and the abducting parent.

In some cases, desperate parents bypass authorities and hire a 'retriever’ – similar to a private investigator – to help find their missing child. Insight asks why this happening, what is being done to protect these children, and whether tightening the laws would have any effect.

Producer: Jodie Noyce
Associate Producer: Kym Middleton

Transcript

JENNY BROCKIE: Hi, I'm Jenny Brockie. With me tonight a woman who was abducted as a child and taken to Switzerland, a mother who hasn't seen her daughters for four years and a private investigator who does international child retrievals. Welcome everybody, good to have you all with us. Aayesha, I'll start with you, tell me about the last time you saw your three daughters? What happened, when was it and what happened?

AAYESHA: It was a community event on a Friday evening, and that was when I last saw my kids and they greeted me and said goodbye, it was just one of those things, they were going with their dad that evening.

JENNY BROCKIE: So you and their dad were separated. Were you divorced?

AAYESHA: Yes, we were divorced at the time and yeah, that was the last time I saw them and it's been four years since then.

JENNY BROCKIE: And he rang you the following day?

AAYESHA: He rang me the following day and we had a discussion about trying to resolve custody issues. So there was nothing formal in place, it was informal arrangement. Yeah, and that was the last time I saw him. So he flew out of Perth on that Saturday.

JENNY BROCKIE: And where did he take the children? How old are the children or how old were they then?

AAYESHA: Okay, at the time it was 4, 7 and 9.

JENNY BROCKIE: And where did he take them?

AAYESHA: Algeria.

JENNY BROCKIE: Now he's Australian, he's an Australian but he was born in Algeria?

AAYESHA: Born in Algeria and we'd been living in Australia for, married for nine and a half years so living in Australia all that time.

JENNY BROCKIE: How did you feel when you realised he was in Algeria?

AAYESHA: Took me a couple of days to realise. So it was by the Tuesday that he was actually confirmed that they were in Algeria and that confirmation came from a phone call I'd made to his mother and asked for the kids and I guess I kind of hoped that she would say they weren't here but she actually went to go and get them and that was my first realisation that"¦

JENNY BROCKIE: They were there?

AAYESHA: They definitely were overseas, yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE: How old are they now?

AAYESHA: So the youngest will be 9 in July, and 9, 12 and 14.

JENNY BROCKIE: And it's four years since you've seen them?

AAYESHA: Yeah, that's right. Well the last photo he sent me was in March, it was a month after they left and that's the last time I've seen them.

JENNY BROCKIE: Do you think you'll see them again?

AAYESHA: I have to hope and I think I do hope that one day we'll see them. It's more a matter of when, yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE: Jo, I wanted to find out a little bit about your story because you were 6 when you were taken by your mother to Switzerland. Do you remember what happened?

JO: Oh, yeah, very clearly. So she had premeditated the entire thing for about a year beforehand and she was quite manipulative. She told me from a very early age that my dad was an evil, nasty, violent person and that we had to go for our own safety. My mum sort of placated me; she bought me a lot of toys and things so she tried to make herself out to be better parent, constantly just telling me that my dad was evil.

JENNY BROCKIE: So was she telling you you were going to do this, do you remember that?

JO: Yeah, she actually did tell me that we were going. She even told me that we were going to Switzerland. She said to keep it a secret from my dad and not to tell anyone but it was basically going to be a huge adventure. I was going to go to a great new school there, I was going to have whatever I wanted and we would be away from my dad.

JENNY BROCKIE: And what was it like when you got to Switzerland?

JO: It was quite different to what she had made me think it would be like. We sort of lived in this studio apartment; I was sleeping on a couch for about six months. She had a partner over there and it was quite difficult because it was a complete stranger living in his apartment and there were just no children my own age so I was living there for six months basically in this little dark, dinghy apartment. It was, I couldn't go out really; I didn't have any friends my own age, just really hard and obviously no contact with my dad.

JENNY BROCKIE: And you remember this quite clearly from that time?

JO: Yeah, yeah, quite clearly.

JENNY BROCKIE: And you changed, you had your name changed?

JO: Yeah, she did it quite well. I mean, we had fake identities, different names and everything, so yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE: So what was your name?

JO: Um, she called me Genevieve and she was called Felicity.

JENNY BROCKIE: And what was that like as a 6 year old?

JO: Yeah, it was quite strange, like really quite strange. She let me choose my own name so I guess that was, you know, a little bit different. I mean it's just really bizarre I think.

JENNY BROCKIE: Brian, you're Jo's dad, how do you feel listening to that?

BRIAN, JO’S FATHER: Well, it does, you know, remind me of what happened and how I went to the house where Johanna was living to collect her for normal weekend access and not getting any answer and leaving it for a week because when her mother got her nose out of joint, this often happened so it's just better to go away and let things cool down whatever was upsetting her. And finally I couldn't stand it anymore so I knocked on the door and a strange woman opened the door and said she'd bought the house the week before. And um, I'd feared it for many years and had Johanna on the Federal Police airport watch list for about three years prior but unfortunately the system did not operate correctly on that occasion.

JENNY BROCKIE: How did you get her back?

BRIAN: It was a long story. I"¦

JENNY BROCKIE: How did you find her to start with?

BRIAN: Well, it was rather bizarre because her mother had gone to Switzerland for about six months beforehand, I think it was, or maybe nine months beforehand and she asked me to look after Johanna. She said she had a job over there and she even asked me would I look after Johanna for a couple of years while she pursued her career in Switzerland and the whole thing smelt quite fishy so I"¦

JENNY BROCKIE: So you were divorced at this stage?

BRIAN: We were divorced, correct.

JENNY BROCKIE: And who had custody?

BRIAN: She did and I had weekly access. So once I realised, you know, realised what happened I was absolutely shattered. From then on I basically became a private detective. I followed all the leads from her earlier visit. I found her postcards from one of the cities in Switzerland so we made an, the Attorney General made an application to Switzerland under the Hague Convention. They searched and couldn't come up with anything and this went on for about four months.

JENNY BROCKIE: Now the Hague Convention is the agreement that Australia has or that numbers of countries have about the return of children?

BRIAN: Exactly.

JENNY BROCKIE: So that those matters are dealt with in the country, in the resident country?

BRIAN: Exactly, and the Swiss authorities couldn't come up with anything for about four months. In the meantime I gave up my work and followed every lead I could and I came across people that she'd worked with. Found that her life was very strange one indeed. And in towards the end was actually quite sure that she was in America, in San Francisco to be specific, and I was even going to fly over there because I thought that's where she was. And then out of the blue the Attorney General's Department rang me after about four months and said that she had in fact been located in Switzerland.

JENNY BROCKIE: And had you given them the lead about the postcards?

BRIAN: Yes, I gave them all that information.

JENNY BROCKIE: So how did you get Jo back?

BRIAN: I flew to Switzerland because I was, I pleaded with them to take Johanna into care because I was sure that her mother would flee Switzerland and once she got into broader Europe it would be very difficult to track her and they were quite content that she wouldn't do that. So I got - the first opportunity I flew to Switzerland. On the first afternoon we went to the block of units that they had the address for, which was a very poor, run down public housing type units. We actually found the apartment where she was supposed to be and it was totally quiet and dead. We knocked on the door and I thought my worst fears had been realised that she'd bolted.

JENNY BROCKIE: Moved?

BRIAN: And I was shattered. I went back to my friends. They said well in the evening we'll go to the police station so I waited at police station and they went, they were gone for a couple of hours, you know, I've was very despondent and about midnight they came back and they said we've got your daughter and I was very emotional and they"¦

JENNY BROCKIE: So they went with the Hague Convention behind them?

BRIAN: Yes, I think that's the way it would have worked but they took Johanna into care and put her in an institution and they made a tentative arrangement that both the mother and I would be able to see her at that institution I think on a daily basis. In the meantime, until we then had to then go through the Hague Convention.

JENNY BROCKIE: Do you remember this?

JO: Yeah, very clearly.

JENNY BROCKIE: Do you remember being in the institution?

JO: Yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE: Do you remember being taken there?

JO: Yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE: That must have been scary?

JO: Well we got - I remember the police come and found us at night time, I'd just gone to bed and I asked my mother if I should hide under the couch and she just basically said no, like this is it. We got taken to the police station by the authorities and I was really quite confused and upset because I couldn't speak French and they were all speaking French.

JENNY BROCKIE: And what was it like when you saw your dad again, given that your mum had been saying all these things about him?

JO: Um, it was a relief because I think it's this - you get kind of distressed when you're sort of with the same parent for about six months and they're, you know, it was quite an emotional thing living with her. She'd have a lot of fights with her partner. So it was a relief really.

JENNY BROCKIE: Aayesha, your children were taken to Algeria, as you said, which isn't part of the Hague Convention, they're not signatories. So what did you do?

EYESHA: Well, I approached government and non-government agencies within Australia to ask for help and basically the answer is we can't help you because the non Hague Convention country. So the advice was given you have to go through the Court system of that country and try and get the kids back.

JENNY BROCKIE: So you travelled over there, did you do that?

EYESHA: Yes, I went twice to Algeria to look for them.

JENNY BROCKIE: And what happened?

EYESHA: Well, my ex-husband had started Court proceedings in Algeria so we had to then defend that. So we went through the Court system which is at three levels. So the first level is just the Local Court and I was given weekends and half the school holidays, which wasn't great but it meant that if I was there I could see them.

JENNY BROCKIE: As long as you were in Algeria?

EYESHA: In Algeria. But the problem then was we had to find them first and we got as close to a house that he was staying in, somebody saw him go in. We stayed outside the house, knocked on the door but he refused to open and we couldn't get in anyway. If we could that climbed the fence we would have but it wasn't possible. By the time we then asked the police for help. They basically said we need the Court papers and we didn't actually have the paper with us so we had to go back to the original town and when we came back he was gone and we couldn't find him after that.

JENNY BROCKIE: So what happened with that Court process, did you get anywhere in the end?

EYESHA: We got to the second level. Because we couldn't serve him with papers because they couldn't find him, they threw the case out.

JENNY BROCKIE: So where are you up to now? I mean have you given up?

EYESHA: I don't think I ever give up but I think you need to"¦

JENNY BROCKIE: Sorry, that's probably a totally wrong question but do you feel despondent? Do you feel like you just don't have the fight in you?

EYESHA: Yeah, I think after the last trip, which was in July 2009 I needed to take a break, emotionally, physically couldn't do it anymore and yes, took a break from that. And just whenever any lead came up I would then look into it.

JENNY BROCKIE: Col Chapman, you call yourself a child retrieval specialist. Tell us what you do?

COLIN CHAPMAN, PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR: We recover children that have been abducted nationally and internationally by a parent.

JENNY BROCKIE: Now you’re a private investigator?

COLIN CHAPMAN: Yeah, a private investigator.

JENNY BROCKIE: So you have a private company that you do this with?

COLIN CHAPMAN: That's right, yes.

JENNY BROCKIE: What lengths will you go to, to get a child back?

COLIN CHAPMAN: Put me on the spot there a little bit.

JENNY BROCKIE: Well no, tell me. I want to know what lengths you'll go to, how far will you go?

COLIN CHAPMAN: That's very difficult to answer.

JENNY BROCKIE: Why, why is it difficult?

COLIN CHAPMAN: Well, because sometimes rules have to be broken to get the children back from some countries. Take Algeria, with Aayesha's children we may need to get them out of Algeria and you may have to cross a border, you may have to cross into Tunisia or Mali or into Morocco to get the children back.

JENNY BROCKIE: Now you're not working with Aayesha?

COLIN CHAPMAN: No, no I'm not.

JENNY BROCKIE: She has not hired you so let me make that absolutely clear.

COLIN CHAPMAN: Yes.

JENNY BROCKIE: But okay, you might have to illegally cross borders. What else might you have to do to break rules?

COLIN CHAPMAN: Some minor misdemeanours, Privacy Act.

JENNY BROCKIE: What sort of things?

COLIN CHAPMAN: In some countries surveillance isn't as accepted as it is here in Australia. Following people, it's viewed as a form of harassment or stalking in some other countries. Whereas in this country we have quite a lot of liberties as to how much we can survey someone.

JENNY BROCKIE: And are you quite happy to break the law?

COLIN CHAPMAN: Look, I think we're talking about someone's child that's been stolen, not their pushbike. So under these circumstances, yes I am.

JENNY BROCKIE: How far will you go though? I mean are weapons involved in what you do?

COLIN CHAPMAN: Um, no child has ever been traumatised or hurt or damaged or no parent has ever been hurt or damaged or traumatised on any of the jobs"¦

JENNY BROCKIE: How do you know that?

COLIN CHAPMAN: Well we're in contact with the parents afterwards, the children afterwards, we're still in contact with children ten years later that we've recovered. Many of them still send us Christmas cards. We're there present at the time, you've got a visual analyses of the situation as to whether someone's traumatised and you know, whether they're upset or not, or whether they're happy to actually see the parent.

JENNY BROCKIE: So talk me through a difficult operation. Just explain for people what it would involve, what sort of things you do?

COLIN CHAPMAN: Um, well taking Aayesha's case as perhaps an example, we would survey, we would attempt to locate the father and the children. We would do that by talking to family members, various government agencies, once we located them"¦

JENNY BROCKIE: If you're talking to the family members do they know who you are?

COLIN CHAPMAN: No.

JENNY BROCKIE: Or are you presenting yourself as someone else?

COLIN CHAPMAN: No, we would be surreptitious; we would use surreptitious methods there. That would be undercover. Try to find out where they are, their habits, their behaviours, their movements. Then we would bring mum in. We always want a parent close by before we do a recovery. We would find a situation or circumstance that was not traumatic for anybody.

JENNY BROCKIE: Such as?

COLIN CHAPMAN: Perhaps the kids were going to school; father had dropped the children off at school. We would turn up at the school an hour or two later with mum to collect the children.

JENNY BROCKIE: And how do the children react in that situation?

COLIN CHAPMAN: I've never seen a child unhappy. Sometimes they're confused, a bit bewildered or shocked or surprised but in every instance they're over it in about 10, 15 seconds. They're happy.

JENNY BROCKIE: Jo, how does it feel listening to that?

JO: Yeah, I think that's obviously a much nicer way to do it than being woken up in the middle of the night and being extracted from your apartment and then going back to the police station. I think that's a lot less traumatic.

JENNY BROCKIE: Do you ever do that, wake people up in the middle of the night like move into a house in the middle of the night?

COLIN CHAPMAN: No, no, we have done some recoveries when children have been asleep and the mother or father has come in and carried the child out to the vehicle. But no, nothing like what Jo's talking about experiencing, no, that is very traumatic.

JENNY BROCKIE: You mentioned to our producer sedation, that you've actually been involved in sedating people, is that right?

COLIN CHAPMAN: Um, that's right, that's correct.

JENNY BROCKIE: Explain that to me.

COLIN CHAPMAN: It's with prescription medication, but someone like Jo perhaps who hasn't seen her father for six or nine months, she may have been told a lot of stories that denigrated him, made her fearful of him, made her worried about what was going to happen. We may put a mild sedative into a Coke, just to relax her, just because she's only 7 years old, it's very traumatic seeing dad after 7 or 8 months so just a mild sedative just to relax.

JENNY BROCKIE: And is that something that you just do, that you just decide to do?

COLIN CHAPMAN: No, no, no, it's not just a carte blanch decision, we liaise with the parent, liaise with the doctor, liaise with the psychologist at the time.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, we'll talk a little bit more about the detail of what you do a bit later but Keith, I know that you do retrievals too. How far will you go?

KEITH SHAFFERIUS, PRIVATE INVESTIGATOR: Yes, I've been involved in some 30 or 40 international retrievals over the last 20, 25 years. I won't drug anyone because I don't have any qualification as a medico to assess the age of the child or what drug they can take. I'll go to the lengths of, for want of a better word, set up a sting to get into a country and I've been into some fairly terrifying countries, in fact Yemen. To get in there we set up as a movie production company and we're shooting what they thought was a movie. We were practising getaways from where the children were to a boat we had waiting at the Red Sea to head back to Japooti in North Africa. Various others cases, there's been all sort of stings set up to get the children. I only accept about three out of five cases that come to me.

JENNY BROCKIE: Why?

KEITH SHAFFERIUS: Because I feel that the children are probably with the better parent after I do my own due diligence back here in Australia.

JENNY BROCKIE: Mary in Ireland, I want to bring you in here. We can't identify you for legal reasons. You fled Australia with your 8 year old son in 2008, tell me why?

MARY: Because I had exhausted every legal avenue to protect my son from serious sexual, emotional, sadistic abuse at the hands of his father and I had no other option. It was the only option that I believed I had.

JENNY BROCKIE: What evidence did you have that your son was being abused by his father?

MARY: It was a long process of realising what was going on. I had taken him to a doctor one time when he had returned from an overnight contact visit with his father due to something that happened when he came home. So yes, everything led to basically there was evidence that there was abuse and the comments and disclosures that my son had made to myself, to family members. His behaviour was noted to be alerting people something was wrong with him, for example, in his kindergarten. And then the actual experts that spent many hours with him came to that conclusion also.

JENNY BROCKIE: You went to the Family Court and you say that your lawyer told you that your husband was likely to get unsupervised visits, is that right? Was that the motivator for you to leave the country?

MARY: Yes, and this, you've got to understand that I went to the – I basically got sent long to the Family Law Court by the lawyer who had done our property settlement. By the time I decided to leave, that was nearly a year and a half later.

JENNY BROCKIE: So what happened next? You thought that your husband was going to get unsupervised visits. What did you do?

MARY: At that stage something just - I just thought right, that's it. I have done everything legally to protect a small child, vulnerable who's been seriously abused and nobody was listening. And I decided that's it, I'm leaving. I'm taking my son and I'm running because his physical safety was at risk, very much at risk. And unfortunately the legal system failed us extremely badly. I literally left the Court at 4.30 and luckily it was late night opening and I just thought that's it, I'm getting out of here and I went to a travel agent and so I basically said to them that I had to get to Ireland as soon as possible. That was it and my son and I, we left and a few days later we arrived in Ireland.

JENNY BROCKIE: And you were brought back under the Hague Convention but you got custody of your son. So you've gone back to Ireland, is that right?

MARY: That's right, that's correct, that is correct, yes.

JENNY BROCKIE: Michael Nichols, you're a QC who specialises in child abduction cases. These stories are so complicated but can you understand why some parents would resort to abduction if they do fear for the welfare of their children?

MICHAEL NICHOLLS QC, FAMILY LAWYER: Yes. Although as we heard from Mary it's often something of a short term remedy because in those sort of circumstances, it's no surprise that the Irish Courts would have ordered the return of her child to Australia to make a final decision about who he should live with and where.

JENNY BROCKIE: Is it a crime to flee the country with a child, with your own child against the wishes of another parent?

MICHAEL NICHOLLS: It's not; it is a crime in Australia to take a child out of the country without the permission of the Court or the other parent if there are pending parenting proceedings, or a parenting order has been made. But if there are no parenting proceedings and no parenting order, no, it's not a criminal offence.

JENNY BROCKIE: So anybody can take a child? If a relationship breaks down and it hasn't gone to the Family Court for those sort of proceedings, the parent can take the child without any consequences?

MICHAEL NICHOLLS: Well, they certainly wouldn't be called to account in a criminal Court because it's not a criminal offence. But the fact that you've abducted the child, unless you've got some very good explanation, may well be taken into account when the Court is making its determination about who that child should live with.

JENNY BROCKIE: Matt in Japan, you've just moved there to try to get access to your sons. How long ago were they taken to Japan by your ex?

MATT: They were taken on January the 26th 2009.

JENNY BROCKIE: And did you have any warning this might happen?

MATT: No, not at all. I mean as far as I was concerned my marriage was a normal marriage and my wife at the time just wanted to go to Japan for a holiday and I lived here for ten years so, you know, I knew how she felt, you know, you get home sick and you want to go back to your country so that wasn't a problem, not a problem at all.

JENNY BROCKIE: So you had no inkling at all? You don't think there was any were any signs?

MATT: No, not at all. I mean looking back with 20/20 vision, you know the pieces fit together and you think well yeah, that didn't seem right. But no, I had complete trust in my wife.

JENNY BROCKIE: So what happened, she took them over there for a holiday and just didn't come back?

MATT: Yeah, well she took them there for a holiday and we maintained contact through telephone and a few weeks later she just out of the blue told me that she wasn't coming back and you know that was it.

JENNY BROCKIE: And what have you done to try to get the boys back? How old are they?

MATT: My eldest son is 11 and my youngest is 7. Well I've done just about everything in Australia. I've exhausted just about than resource in Australia. I've made hundreds of telephone calls. I've written hundreds of letters. You know, unfortunately the only thing the Australian government has said to me is get a Court order and go through the Japanese legal system but unfortunately, and I've been trying to tell the Australian government this, that Court orders aren't recognised in Japan and secondly, the Japanese legal system is a farce. I mean no parent has ever, ever won a Court case against a Japanese parent. Not one child has ever been returned to its habitual residence and in fact when the Japanese parent dies"¦

JENNY BROCKIE: How do you know that?

MATT: "¦the Court awards the child to the Japanese grandparents. So basically foreign parents in Japan don't stand a chance.

JENNY BROCKIE: How do you know that no one's ever got a child back, have you done that research?

MATT: That's a fact. That's a fact. In 60 years, not one child. Japan is a black hole for international parents or child abduction. It's a fact that not one child has ever been returned from Japan. When I lived here if I wanted to take my sons back for a holiday I needed written permission from my wife. However in Australia the laws seem to be quite lax and it's quite easy to remove a child from Australia.

JENNY BROCKIE: So where are you up to now? Have you gone to the Courts at all, no?

MATT: No, I avoid the Japanese Courts like the plague. I mean going through the Japanese courts would be like being an African American in 1930s Mississippi or Alabama with the jurors being members of the Klan. The Japanese Courts are extremely biased.

JENNY BROCKIE: Duncan Holmes, you're a family lawyer. I just wonder what you think listening to that. I mean that's a very extreme picture being painted of the Japanese legal system, it is a fair picture?

DUNCAN HOLMES, FAMILY LAWYER: I think it is. The trouble with Japan is that it really is, as your interviewee says, it's an island to itself. There are so many cultural issues surrounding issues of Japanese nationals wanting to return home and there's a perception that often there's under reporting of violence in relationships, and when they get home, they are given; the perception is that the nationals are given a really good treatment.

JENNY BROCKIE: So how difficult is it to get a child back if they've been taken to Japan?

DUNCAN HOLMES: Oh, well it's just, it's almost impossible.

JENNY BROCKIE: Because they're not signatories to the Hague Convention?

DUNCAN HOLMES: They're not signatories.

JENNY BROCKIE: But they've said they're going to be sign, yes?

DUNCAN HOLMES: They said they're going to sign but as I understand it, we're still a long way off from Japan actually putting its signature on the page and it will also be a question of what conditions they impose.

JENNY BROCKIE: Matt, you and your parents have been to Japan a number of times and you're living there now. Have often have you managed to see your kids since they were taken three years ago?

MATT: Well I came here four times last year. I was successful in getting access to my children but you know, there are times where I have to risk being arrested or, you know, being called a stalker and actually go to the house and knock on the door. I mean they're the extremes that a lot of left behind parents you know have to resort to in order to see their children.

JENNY BROCKIE: Now you turned up at the house in Japan where your kids are living nine months ago and you had a friend record what happened. Let's have a look at that footage?

VIDEO FOOTAGE OF MATT’S EXPERIENCE, COURTESY OF NICK MAY:

WOMAN 1: No filming, please.

MATT: Why? He’s an Australian journalist.

NICK: A friend.

WOMAN 1: I don’t know about this. Wait there.

MATT: Okay, Chieko"¦please listen to me, okay?

WOMAN 1: So, then"¦

MATT: It’s my turn. No please listen. Stop being nasty and let me talk. You see my sons every day.

WOMAN 1: You do too.

MATT: I can’t see my own sons every day.

WOMAN 1: Not true.

MATT: To see them I have to pay a lot of money.

WOMAN 1: That’s not the point.

MATT: It is!

WOMAN 1: Matthew, do you want to go bowling today or not?

MATT: Yes.

WOMAN 1: Then boys"¦

MATT: You’re selfish. Remember they’re my sons. Japan condemns North Korea for abductions, but Japan is the same. Each year many children are abducted to Japan.

WOMAN 1: I didn’t abduct them.

MATT: You think that. Because you have no idea that it is.

JENNY BROCKIE: Now Matt, we blurred the footage, the faces of your children in that footage because we wanted to protect their privacy. But the eldest in particular was clearly distressed by that scene and by what happened?

MATT: Yes, it's very powerful for a child.

JENNY BROCKIE: How do you feel about that?

MATT: Unfortunately that's the lengths that a lot of parents, they have no choice but to resort to that, going to the house and it is disturbing to see, you know, the children being affected. But there are so many Japanese parents, and particularly grandparents that do all they can to prevent just basic access to our own children. And that is, I mean I watched that footage and it is, I find it rather disturbing. But out of desperation, I mean that's what we're forced to do.

JENNY BROCKIE: What do your children say to you about things like that after they've happened?

MATT: Well, I spoke to my son last week and he said to me that his mother told him that if I go to the house again with anyone or if I film anywhere near there, the police will be called and I will be imprisoned.

JENNY BROCKIE: What did he say to you after that footage was shot? I mean once you'd gotten away and the cameras were gone, what did he say?

MATT: Yeah, I don't think he's seen that footage.

JENNY BROCKIE: No, no, but he went through that experience. I'm more interested in what he said to you about that. I'm interested in the child's perspective here. What did your son say to you after all that footage was taken? Did he talk to you about what had happened?

MATT: No, no he didn't. No, we went bowling and I think the problem that this affects a lot of children emotionally and mentally and a lot of their feelings are, you know, hidden. So no, he didn't, we went bowling after that and everything was fine. We managed to enjoy the rest of the day.

JENNY BROCKIE: Aayesha and Jo, how did you feel watching that footage?

JO: It's obviously really distressing and it's quite sad to think that that's the kind of lengths you have to go to just to see your kids. I know that my mum sort of filled my head with really negative images of my father and I think that was really difficult for me to understand as a child so I can kind of understand where his kids are coming from. You know, when I saw my dad I was really quite confused because I was trying to sort of reconcile the fact that he was, you know, made out to be quite an evil, horrible person and the memories I had of him, some of them were quite good. And, yeah, it's just really awful that you have to go through those sort of lengths just to see your children.

JENNY BROCKIE: Aayesha, what was it like for you watching that?

AAYESHA: It was really hard; I think all the stories tonight reinforced my fears of you trying to make a really difficult situation right and what the kids would have to go through. I think for me I don't want my kids to have to go through that confusion. But I don't know how other way to see my kids without them having to go through that.

JENNY BROCKIE: Is that part of the reason you're holding back a bit, that you're a bit stuck? You don't quite know what to do?

AAYESHA: I'm trying to, obviously I want to see my kids which is really important to me. But it's trying to balance out my feelings with what I'm going to put them through to then see them again and it's really hard to find a place where you feel okay with that. And I guess as a mother, it's like I want to keep them away from harm as much as I can and that means staying away for a bit, well maybe that's what I have to do.

JENNY BROCKIE: So you're caught in a way, that you're trying to protect them from something like that?

AAYESHA: Yes.

JENNY BROCKIE: But that means that you can't see them?

AAYESHA: You're in a constant state of confusion how much is enough, how much is not enough? What it would do to them. I know w the father is probably telling them so it's like how do you balance that out when and when I do come to see them, will they want to see me? Is it going to make it harder for them? Yeah, so it's trying to the find the best solution that you can.

JENNY BROCKIE: But it's such a big change to your life, isn't it, to have three children"¦

AAYESHA: Yes.

JENNY BROCKIE: "¦disappear from your life like that virtually overnight?

AAYESHA: That's right and you have to find a new role for yourself. You've gone from being a mother 24/7 to suddenly having kids but they're not there and then you have to always remember that you have children and try to maintain that by moving forward.

JENNY BROCKIE: Are you able to contact them at all? Can you write to them? Are you able to talk to them on the telephone?

AAYESHA: I can't call them myself. I have no way of contacting them so I have to wait for him to contact me and that is I guess when he feels like it. And I don't know when it's going to be, I don't know how long it's going to be for and he's always sitting there so it's very hard to communicate.

JENNY BROCKIE: Jo, how has all of this affected your life? You mentioned this a little bit before. What's your relationship like with your parents now?

JO: With my mother it's been my choice to have quite limited contacts with her. A couple of years ago I went to visit her at her house and we actually, I actually tried to discuss this with her. I tried to ask if she had regretted it or if she had any feelings about it and she got quite angry about it. She said that it was in my best interests and that she had no regrets. The entire thing had worked out well, she thought. And yeah, basically that she'd done the right thing and it was really quite difficult for me to accept that. That was really horrible I think to hear.

JENNY BROCKIE: So she didn't really hear you?

JO: No, not at all. I tried to explain how upset it had made me and how hard my childhood had been as a result and this when I was trying to come to terms with it as an adult looking back and yeah, she just basically ignored my feelings. She just claimed that it was in my best interests when it clearly wasn't.

JENNY BROCKIE: And what about your relationship with your dad?

JO: I think it's definitely affected that. I've got quite a strained relationship but you know, things have become a lot better, I think. It's quite good that now I'm back with him I don't have a lot of that negative influence from my mum constantly telling me that he's a horrible person, which I had when I was a young child.

JENNY BROCKIE: Why do you think, do you think you've got a strange relationship with your child?

BRIAN: I think strained. No, I just put it down, well I hope to put it down to my friends whose got daughters and they say they're very difficult between about 16 and 22 so about two years to go.

JENNY BROCKIE: There you go Jo, there's your response. Why do you say it's strained?

JO: I think just because you never really get over it when you're a kid. You're quite easily manipulated.

JENNY BROCKIE: So you feel like your head was filled full of negative things about your dad?

JO: Yeah, basically since I - well since I knew my number basically.

JENNY BROCKIE: And you've got to turn that around in your head?

JO: Yeah, and it takes a long time. I've started to do it now. I know that my mum's probably not the best parent.

JENNY BROCKIE: Vincent, you're a clinical psychologist, you've worked in the Family Court system for 25 years. How do these situations affect the children? I mean we hear a lot about the parents and the pain that the parents go through but what about the kids?

VINCENT PAPALEO, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: You know Jenny I thought that it was interesting watching that video tape, by pixilating the children's faces actually made them invisible and in some ways listening to everyone talking about their rights and how difficult it is, we tend to lose sight of the children. Inevitably children who are taken away from one parent are inevitably told negative things about the other parent. They're told that the parent is bad or dangerous. Sometimes they're told the parent is dead and what is a child supposed to do other than believe the parent on whom they are the most emotionally dependant and reliant in that situation? The outcomes unfortunately I think are really quite poor. You're dealing with children who become traumatised and even the description of them, they seem to be fine, is I think a description that needs to be viewed with extreme caution. That this apparently looking fine and being happy and comfortable in the situation, I think heightens the suggestion that in fact they're very traumatised and they're withdrawn and they're detaching and you're not aware of the trauma that they're experiencing.

JENNY BROCKIE: Well that's what you said Col, you said they seem to be fine, I mean how do you know they're fine?

COLIN CHAPMAN: Well that's right.

VINCENT PAPALEO: I would question that and caution that with extreme scepticism. They're not fine and I think what Jo is describing is really the category of experiences that children have. They become traumatised, they become anxious, they become confused, they've lost their family, they've lost a father or mother, a grandparent, school, society, friends, networks, depending on their age how they make sense of it. If they're taken to a country where English is not the first language, how do they then talk to that parent? If they meet a parent who they've been told is bad what do they do about that? If they're then confronted with a different story, the triangulation becomes impossible.

JENNY BROCKIE: But what about a situation like Mary's for example? I mean can you understand a parent doing that if they're really fearful for the child's safety?

VINCENT PAPALEO: It's really complicated and obviously every case deserves individual attention. Along a continuum you have parents who are acting in a justifiable protective manner. At the other end of that extreme you have parents who have formed a delusion and a belief that no matter what anyone says to them, they believe that they have been misunderstood, misrepresented that the story is not correct.

JENNY BROCKIE: These situations can be incredibly murky; I mean there's claim and counterclaim. I know just looking at this program ourselves, you get claims and counterclaims. You get incredible amounts of emotion in these situations. How do you view child abduction generally Vincent from your position?

VINCENT PAPALEO: I think there is a good case to conceptualise child abduction as child abuse, okay? And some children are probably being abducted in order to be protected, I don't doubt that. But the cases I've been involved in are quite different to that. You have parents who have really lost a sense of understanding their child's inner world. These children are seen as possessions, not responsibilities, that the other parent is treated with contempt; they're not seen as being valuable or valued at all.

JENNY BROCKIE: Col, what if there are allegations of abuse? That the parent that's hired you has been accused of abuse. I mean will you deliver a child to an allegedly abusive parent?

COLIN CHAPMAN: Within reason. So long as they haven't been charged with a child related offence. So long as they're not a child abuser or a paedophile. But within reason, so long as everything on the surface seems acceptable, yes.

JENNY BROCKIE: On the surface, I mean can you do police checks on people for example?

COLIN CHAPMAN: We can conduct, we can conduct some background checks, we can.

JENNY BROCKIE: Police checks?

COLIN CHAPMAN: No, no, we don't have access to police files.

JENNY BROCKIE: So how can you know? I mean how can you - theoretically, how could you know, for example that it was a safe to return a child to someone?

COLIN CHAPMAN: Well you're never going to know that categorically sadly.

JENNY BROCKIE: What if you know there have been allegations of abuse; would you still do the job? Say there's been allegations of violence against the spouse; would you still return the child to that person who's allegedly been violent towards the spouse?

COLIN CHAPMAN: Yeah, we have done, yes, we have done, we've returned the child based on Court orders.

JENNY BROCKIE: So can you just make it clear for me what the boundaries are with a case for you? What sort of cases, what sort of case would you knock back, for example?

COLIN CHAPMAN: I haven't knocked one back yet, I haven't found one that has any grounds for me to knock one back yet. Dennis Ferguson comes in, he's the Australia's most notorious paedophile, wants his kid back, I probably wouldn't do the job for him. But I really haven't had one yet. I can't really think of the circumstances. Murderers, rapists are all allowed access to their children, that's just fair, that's normal. Just because they've been a murderer or a rapist or committed some violent crime doesn't mean they should be denied access to their children for the rest of their lives.

JENNY BROCKIE: So you've worked for people like that?

COLIN CHAPMAN: Oh, yes, I have, yes, yes.

DUNCAN HOLMES: Jenny, one of the hardest decisions a left behind parent has to make is do I pursue? And if you're looking at it from the interests of the child, look at that video. You can't tell me that child isn't suffering damages. To suggest I can take my child bowling and then all of a sudden all that stress that that child is going to, it's just going to wash away, I just think that's fanciful. People like Aayesha make a very difficult decision I'm going to let go because I don't want to put the stress and damage on the child. These discussions tonight of people saying oh, just go in and pick up the child and take them away, take them back to Australia, I just think that's lunacy, right? They're in a foreign country, they've picked them up from the school but they've got to get out of the country. Now think of the damage that is being caused to this child? So decisions like what Aayesha makes and what you make, I think that is a child focused decision and that's what's best.

JENNY BROCKIE: But very much at Aayesha's expense?

DUNCAN HOLMES: She doesn't want to do it but she's thinking about her children.

COLIN CHAPMAN: But isn't she making the decision in a vacuum where she doesn't know what her children are experiencing, going through what they need, what they need, sorry Aayesha talking about you.

AAYESHA: But what guarantees do I have if I take up your service and have the children abducted or recovered that then you won't then help the father to take them back and that's been my concern is. I will do that; obviously say I've thought about myself, I want to get them back, he'll do the same thing back and when does it stop? And that's been a concern that I've had is when does it stop?

JENNY BROCKIE: That is very valid point Col and I just wonder morally, I mean would you work for anyone in this situation?

COLIN CHAPMAN: I suppose we are to some degree, yes, to some degree, yes.

JENNY BROCKIE: Ken, it was three years before you were reunited with your son in Amsterdam, mainly because you didn't know where he was for a lot of that time. How much help did you get tracking him down?

KEN THOMPSON: Look, I think it's an issue all left behind parents in Australia experience. I think probably a little bit more so in Australia than other countries because of the issues with the legislation. It's an offence under one scenario but not under another, and even though it is an offence under the Family Law Act, it's very, very difficult to convince the authorities such as the Australian Federal Police that a crime has been committed. They see a difference between the Family Law Act and the Crimes Act and you're frequently told we can't do anything because a crime hasn't been committed under the Crimes Act.

JENNY BROCKIE: Under the crimes Act?

KEN THOMPSON: But you know a federal offence has been committed under the Family Law Act and from that point on you know you feel as though you're just fighting against every obstacle that can possibly be thrown in your path. The first thing you run up against is a jurisdiction issue. So there could well be people within Australia who know some information about where your child might be. I can't get that as a private citizen. The only people who can get that are people like the Australian Federal Police but they're not empowered to actually make that investigation.

JENNY BROCKIE: Michael, is that right? Is what Ken says accurate, that really it's very difficult to get information?

MICHAEL NICHOLLS: Yes, I think that is right. It is difficult to get information. One of the advantages of a general crimes act statute offence would be that you could engage the Australian Federal Police in finding your child and, if necessary, you could engage Interpol in finding your child. So there are significant advantages to criminalising international abduction. But the trouble is that there's also significant disadvantages as well and most of the cases we've heard about tonight, over 70 percent of cases involve women with small children who are the primary carers of small children leaving a failed and very often violent and abusive relationship. They themselves might well be suffering from reactive depression and one of the problems about criminalising international abduction is that there's a real danger that any attempt to negotiate a return will simply fail because of the fear on the part of the abducting parent had they'll be prosecuted when they returned. Similarly there's also the problem of the possibility that being prosecuted on a return would be run inside The Hague Convention proceedings as potentially exposing the children to grave psychological harm on the basis their parent is likely to be prosecuted and imprisoned. So Ken is right, there are distinct advantages to criminalising international child abduction in terms of tracing a child. The problems is that the countervailing disadvantages probably outweigh the advantages.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, what do the other people - Ken?

KEN THOMPSON: Can I just respond to that? I think the issue there is - I mean when you start talking about criminalisation people immediately think of punishment and imprisonment. When I talk about it and when other parents whose children have been abducted talk about criminalisation we're talking more about a legislation that enables things to be done that simply cannot be done at the moment. I don't think there would be too many parents whose children have been abducted that really want to see the abducting parent sent to prison, that's a last resort as it is with most crimes in our society. What we're looking for is legislation that enables us to locate our children.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, and you think making it a crime under the Crimes Act would make that, would facilitate that? What did you think about that Jo? Do you think it should be made a crime under the Crimes Act?

JO: It's something I'm really on the fence about. The thing that I would be concerned about is that, you know, prison should be a last resort and it would be quite traumatic for me, I think, as a child to know that my mother is a criminal and that she has gone to gaol. But if it is used as a last resort and if it is an enabling act then, yeah, definitely.

JENNY BROCKIE: Aayesha, do you have a view on this?

AAYESHA: I understand where Ken's coming from in that I would like to see more services available for to access the children, to find them but I don't want to see their father in gaol and I see what that would do to them and that would be absolute last resort. It's not in my mind but if there's another way to get around that, then that would be great.

JENNY BROCKIE: Brian?

BRIAN: I don't think many left behind parents what do see their ex-partner in gaol. I think the advantage what Ken is speaking about is the leverage it gives the parent and also the support. One of the problems a lot of left behind parents face if they want to, you know, proceed, prohibitive legal costs and other costs in trying to get anything done about it. If it was made a criminal act then the state would have to prosecute on their behalf. So it helps alleviate that. There's cases where it's not uncommon where the victim parent is funding, facing legal costs even hundreds of thousands of dollars and the perpetrator gets Legal Aid and I think that's absolutely outrageous.

JENNY BROCKIE: The federal government is reviewing the law in this area. I mean what else would any of you like to see happen? Do you have views about it Ken?

KEN THOMPSON: Yeah, look I think, you know, there's a lot of focus on the response side of things. Yet in Australia there's virtually no preventative measures in place and that was one of the issues that came up quite strongly in the Senate enquiry last year. The only preventative measure is really the requirement in Australia for both parents to agree to a passport being issued. So both parents have to sign the passport application. But once that passport's been issued either parent can leave the country without the knowledge of the other parent. That's the first thing. The second part is if you do have a concern that perhaps your child is going to be taken out of the country without your consent, you can have your are child placed on what they call the watch list. Very, very few parents know about the watch list and the only way you can have your child placed on that watch list is by engaging a lawyer, making a case, making an application to the Family Court to seek an order for that order to be put in place. It's a very, very difficult process to put any preventative measures in place.

JENNY BROCKIE: Aayesha, when was the last time you spoke to your children?

AAYESHA: November last year.

JENNY BROCKIE: And you haven't been able to have any contact since then?

AAYESHA: No, he calls when he wants to and so I just wait for when that times going to happen.

JENNY BROCKIE: So what happens now with your life? How do you get on with your life?

AAYESHA: I think I just, I'm hoping that it's going to be, it's very extreme I have the kids or he has the kids and somehow find the balance in between that. I think when I started off I wanted the kids back because they should be with me, I'm their mother, and I was their primary care-giver before they left. And now it's at the point where I'd like to have regular contact. So they don't have to choose, that's where they are, he's not going to leave right now so how can we do that in a better way? So at the moment now I hope he'll come to that realisation either by himself or through the kids growing up they're going to start asking questions. So I have more hope now as they get older, there's only so much he can tell them and then they'll ask more questions and hopefully they'll come and look for me.

JENNY BROCKIE: Well good luck. And thank you very much for sharing your story and thank you everybody for sharing your stores tonight.