The Abduction Event
It is worth detailing the children’s perceptions of the event itself before examining how their significant relationships were affected and how the children coped in the aftermath.
In two instances the children were abducted by their fathers. This involved three children, 30% of the sample. None of these children considered their father to have been their primary carer. The remaining 70% were abducted by their mothers. These children all defined their mother as their primary carer, though one young person felt that his father was equally but differently responsible for his upbringing. These children appeared not to experience their mother as an abducting parent, whereas those children taken by their father tended to see him in this way. One child, who was only three at the time of what was the most protracted abduction, spoke of having been “stolen”. He recalled spending his fourth and fifth birthdays without his mother. He came to think that “she must be dead.” His older sibling told him that his mum was too young to die. He asked his dad, but his inability or refusal to answer made him think, “it must be true.”
Eight (80%) of the children clearly remembered the circumstances of their abduction. In most cases it was initially presented to them as an extension of a holiday or outing and the children viewed it with some initial excitement. One child said, “I was at home with mum one day and dad came to pick me up. We went to McDonalds and stuff. He took me shopping and got me loads of stuff. We were walking, walking for ages. We were walking round and round and he got me some toy cars. I used to love toy cars. I’ve still got a lot of them. I still like to play with them sometimes. After ages when I was really tired we went back to where dad was staying….I went to sleep. It was like going to sleep at night except it was in the middle of the day. When I woke up I was in …. I don’t remember anything about going there. I woke up at an airport and thought dad had taken me to see the planes…..”
There was a striking exception to this. One child was twice abducted by the same parent, who explained to him what was going on both times. He knew he was not going on a holiday. He came to feel considerable unhappiness and a greater sense of betrayal about his legally enforced return to his country of habitual residence to be with his non-primary carer than about the abduction event. He identified the country to which he was initially removed as “home”. He refuses to name the event as abduction and only refers to it as “the court case”. Three other children thought that they were returning “home” and did not see themselves as having been abducted. Four children felt a sense of growing unease and anxiety about their non-return. Two boys actively wanted to remain with their mothers in the country to which she had taken them. For one boy, that country felt like home. The other, an older child at the time of abduction, stated a preference not to return to his country of habitual residence. In one family, the two children remember very little of the event. Two siblings in another family were both unhappy about being separated from their father, but thought that their mother was right to leave.
Seven of the children attended school or playgroup during the period that they were away. Three were pre-school age. Most of them found going to school helpful. One