The intention of the convention was to prevent a parent who was not the primary carer of the child from abducting them. However, a report from the European Parliament found that the use of the Hague Convention has “radically changed” from this aim. Today 73% of parents who take children to another country are mothers, who are almost always the primary carer of the child.
Dineen says that forcing a parent who has taken a child into another country to return them can put people experiencing domestic abuse from their partner at risk.
“If mothers take the children [to another country], they invariably go back with the children to try and continue to safeguard them [if children are returned under the convention],” she says. “And then that puts them into an even more seriously dangerous situation.”
Statistics show that in 65% of cases, the parent who has taken the child has been ordered to return them.
There is a defence concerning ‘grave risk’ for the child, but Dineen says this is interpreted in a “very narrow way” that does not account for the impact on a child of witnessing domestic abuse against a parent.
Fawcett says it needs to include an “extra defence” to account for the risk of domestic abuse from one parent against the other, and the impact of witnessing domestic abuse on a child. Coercive control, which is now a criminal offence in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, is not considered to be a form of domestic abuse in many countries signed up to the convention. The domestic abuse defence should include different forms of abuse, says Fawcett, such as psychological and financial abuse, as well as violence.
Dineen believes that the convention needs a “significant change”. She says the Hague Mothers would like to see it used only for its original intention – to safeguard the child. They would to exclude cases where a parent is fleeing from another because of domestic abuse.