AWARE calls for tweaks to proposed law
The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction came into force in 1983, and since then 82 countries, but not Singapore, have become signatories to it.
The Ministry for Community Development, Youth and Sports recently announced that Singapore intended to sign the convention by the end of 2010, and invited interested parties to comment on its proposed International Child Abduction (ICA) bill.
The two main aims of the convention are to:
- secure the prompt return of children wrongfully removed to or retained in any signatory state.
- ensure that the rights of custody and of access under the laws of one state are effectively respected in other signatory states.
In its submission, AWARE noted that Singapore’s accession was somewhat overdue. Cross-border relationships and marriages are on the rise. When such relationships and marriages sour, there can be the problem of parents disagreeing as to who should have custody and where the child or children should reside.
This has led to a growing number of child abductions – where one parent unilaterally decides to take the child or children away from the country where the other parent lives. The Hague Convention provides a framework for the resolution of such cases.
While Singapore’s move to ratify the convention is laudable, AWARE feels that the ICA should include Articles 2 and 11 from the Convention. These two articles require signatory states to act speedily in cases of child abduction. The aim is for children to be returned to their usual place of residence as quickly as possible so that the courts there can decide what would be in their best interests.
These two articles are at the heart of the Hague Convention and it is glaring, AWARE said, that the ICA does not include them. The success of the convention depends on the signatory states having laws that support it.
AWARE also feels that the ICA should have an additional section giving Singapore courts the authority to impose a fine or a custodial sentence, or both, on those found guilty of child abduction.
The final point of AWARE’s submission notes that Section 13 of the ICA allows for the court to receive advice from any person, such as welfare officers, but it is not clear if the party applying for the return of a child is entitled to hear or read this advice.
Since such information provided to the court could ultimately determine the fate of the child, the parents should be entitled to the advice and also the right to cross-examine the welfare officer or others providing it.