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International Parental Child Abduction: Practical Application of the 1980 Hague Convention

The discussion was attended by Christophe Bernasconi, Secretary General of the Hague Conference on Private International Law, Marina Venäläinen, Ministerial Counselor of Unit for General International and EU Affairs at the Ministry of Justice of Finland, Eli Ilya Gervits, President of Isreli Russian-speaking Eli Gervits Law Offices, Konstantin Dolgov, Authorized Representative on Human Rights, Democracy and Rule of Law at Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Julie Losson, Villard Cornec & Associés Partner, Merja Norros, Ministerial Counselor of Unit for International Judicial Administration at the Ministry of Justice of Finland, Irina Romanova, Deputy Director of the Department of State Policy in the Sphere of Children Rights Defense at the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation. The session was moderated by Nataliya Trigubovich, Expert at Alexeev Private Law Research Centre under the President of the Russian Federation.

“The Hague Convention on civil and legal aspects of international child abduction was signed in 1980 and entered into force in 1983. The convention was concluded because there were more and more cases of children abduction by one of the parents. The Russian Federation acceded to the Convention in 2011, but acceding to the Convention is only the first step to make convention work. The second step is the recognition of Russia as a party to the Convention by other member-states. The Russian Federation is now recognized by 55 countries out of 94,” Nataliya Trigubovich said at the beginning of the discussion.

Christophe Bernasconi told about the main provisions of the Convention. “The Hague Convention makes it possible to implement basic human rights, that are recognized by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The principle of quickest child return is regarded as realization of child’s interests and applies to children under 16. When the Convention is effective, it has a preventive effect as well,” said Secretary General of the Hague Conference on Private International Law. The expert added that in order to initiate the return of a child to a place of permanent residence, the court must make a ruling that the custody belongs to one of the parents and the second parent has violated the law. “The decision of the child return shall be taken within six weeks after the beginning of judicial proceedings. All the countries should think how to speed up the proceedings and make more efficient enforcement of court decision,” Christophe Bernasconi underlined.

Irina Romanova agreed with him. She noted that the aim of the Hague Convention on civil and legal aspects of international child abduction is, first of all, not to return a child back to the country of residence, but to minimize psychological problems caused by relocation. “Our main task is to resolve the issue as soon as possible and to return a child back to a place of living that it is used to. Having said this, the aim of the Convention is not to take a child away from one of the parents, but to bring a child back to an accustomed environment, where authorized bodies take decision in whose custody the child shall remain,” explained Deputy Director of the Department of State Policy in the Sphere of Children Rights Defense at the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation. She also added that claims of the parents towards each other should not have an impact on an ability of the child to meet with both parents.

Konstantin Dolgov told about practical experience of the Russian Federation related to the application of Hague Convention provisions. “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia pays special attention to the protection of the rights of children. Conflicts over children in mixed marriages are an issue of concern that we face on a regular basis. We state unlawfully prejudiced attitude towards Russian citizens during court hearings about the cases related to children in mixed marriages. Their number does not go down. We do believe that judicial bodies shall work impartially, however it does not always happen like that,” said the Authorized Representative on Human Rights, Democracy and Rule of Law at Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation. He also added that one of the problems is insufficient awareness of Russian citizens, especially young ladies, who marry foreigners. “They have neither time, nor wish to get familiar with the legal system of a foreign country, where they are moving to. It happens often so, that we receive applications when courts of primary jurisdiction have already taken their decisions. In this case we have our hands tied. It is extremely difficult to resolve the problems in a foreign jurisdiction”, summarized Konstantin Dolgov.

The moderator of the discussion said that the first country that returned the children back to the Russian Federation was Finland. “The Hague Convention has been efficient between Russia and Finland since 2013. Since then we have returned three children to the Russian Federation. We process from 10 to 20 applications annually. Only Helsinki Court Council takes such cases. We deal with cases, where both parents are Russian, more often. There was only one case of a mixed marriage, where one of the partners was a citizen of Finland,” Merja Norros said.