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Law coming to expedite return of abducted children

Published:Friday | July 15, 2016 | 12:00 AM

The Government has moved a step closer to facilitating the prompt return of children who are abducted by a parent from their home in Jamaica and taken to another country.

Last Friday, Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister Kamina Johnson Smith tabled the Children (Guardianship and Custody) (Amendment) Act 2016 in the Senate aimed at giving effect to the 1980 Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

The convention aims to "protect children internationally from the harmful effects of their wrongful removal or retention and to establish procedures to ensure their prompt return to the state of their 'habitual residence'".

Under the proposed amendments, the designated central authority to deal with issues under the convention will be the Child Development Agency.

The provisions of the convention will be triggered once the child is removed from Jamaica, where the child is a habitual resident, and taken to another country that is a signatory to the convention.

"It's a necessary development in the law. The (original) act is quite dated. It has been on the books since 1957," Children's Advocate Diahann Gordon Harrison said, noting that the convention "prevents a violation of the children's sense of normalcy".

"It is timely that the convention has come around," she added.

In many instances, the children are removed as part of a fight between parents of a failed relationship.

A court will first be asked to determine whether there is any breach in custody rights and determine the child's residence before abduction.

It will have six weeks to make a decision in proceedings for the return of a child who was wrongfully removed or retained.

Meanwhile, a court, according to the proposed amendments, "is not bound to order the return of a child" if there is "grave risk" that the return of the child would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or other adverse situations.

Regarding another country seeking a child's return from Jamaica, that country's authorities could be asked to meet the expenses associated with that case.

Ninety-five countries are signatories of the convention.