[Viewpoint] Leading the way in child welfareAs a 21st century regional and global leader, countries around the world look to Korea as a role model. Korea’s commitment to cooperate with other nations in the peaceful and orderly adjudication of legal disputes is an influential example of responsible global citizenship. Few, if any issues are more important than the protection and welfare of children.
Korea’s ratification of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, an important tool of international cooperation on cases involving the separation of parents and children, would be a strong statement on the importance of protecting children.
In this era of modernization and globalization, a growing number of people from different cultures are forming families and welcoming children into their lives. Unfortunately, a small percentage of those relationships end acrimoniously, with parents facing difficult decisions on how to meet their child’s fundamental need for parental contact and support, while balancing their own needs as they adjust to the reality of a broken relationship.
When one parent deprives the other parent of access to their child by abducting the child to another country without their permission, it is referred to as “International Parental Child Abduction.”
International Parental Child Abduction is a tragedy that not only deprives and jeopardizes children but has substantial long term consequences for the parent, and family members left behind.
Children who are abducted by one parent and taken to a foreign environment are suddenly isolated from the security of a familiar environment, extended family, friends and classmates. They are at risk of serious emotional and psychological problems in their sudden isolation, often believing they have been abandoned by one of their parents.
Similarly, the parent who is left behind copes with feelings of betrayal, loss, anger and depression. When their child has been taken to a foreign country, the parent left behind is faced with unfamiliar legal, cultural and linguistic barriers that compound emotions of helplessness, loss and grief.
To protect the rights of parents and children throughout the world, nations came together in 1980 to sign The Hague Abduction Convention. This Convention created an agreed civil legal mechanism available to parents seeking legal remedies when their children have been taken to other countries without their consent.
The Abduction Convention does not address who should have custody of the child, or where the child should live.
It addresses the question of under which legal jurisdiction a parental child custody case should be decided. Under the Hague Abduction Convention, it is generally held that the country of the child’s habitual residence is determined to be the appropriate jurisdiction where the legal authorities in that country should make a parental custody decision in the best interests of the child.
The Hague Abduction Convention exists so that nations with diverse legal frameworks can work together to solve international legal disputes. Korea is a Hague member country and has already ratified several other Hague Conventions, including the Convention on Abolishing the Requirement of Legalization for Foreign Public Documents and the Convention on the Taking of Evidence Abroad in Civil or Commercial Matters.
Utilizing the Hague convention process in International Parental Child Abduction cases assists in bringing a swift conclusion to the separation between a child and his parents and lessens the significant emotional and psychological damage caused by the unlawful international parental child abduction.
Korea recently naturalized its 100,000th foreign-born citizen. The vast majority of the naturalized citizens came to Korea within the last 10 years. The number of foreign citizens living and working in Korea surpassed the one million mark for the first time in 2010.
Korea’s increasingly multicultural and diverse society will soon encounter many more situations in which Korean citizens, both children and parents, will be negatively affected by the anguish caused by international parental child abduction.
Without a legal mechanism such as The Hague Abduction Convention to address this heartbreak, Korean parents could be separated from their own children with little possibility of resolution.
By showing the foresight and wisdom to address this issue, Korea demonstrates it is both a citizen of the international community and a trailblazer for progressive civil society in East Asia.
*The writer is Consul General and Minister Counselor for Consular Affairs for the U.S. Embassy in Seoul.
By Cynthia Sharpe