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vomiting which increased the longer he was away. He described using strategies to distract himself from thoughts of his left-behind parent and all that he was missing during his illegal retention. Two siblings were allowed to believe that their mother was dead and remember their father’s new partner crying on finding out they had a mother. Their reunion with their left-behind parent was described as traumatic. It took place in a police station. They did not immediately recognise her and to begin with the younger child believed that she had adopted them.

Effects on the Children’s Relationships

Most of the children were denied contact to the left-behind parent and any other siblings during the period of the abduction. Also lost to them at that time were relationships with extended family, close friends and peers. For some of the children, three in particular, this caused sorrow and regret because, although they had aligned themselves with the abducting parent and invested heavily in the change of environment, they missed siblings and other family members. One sister and brother recalled the loss of extended family on their abducting parent’s side especially. They said that they were not allowed to phone or text anyone and that the only grandparent that they were able to see was very ill. “We did not even see anyone else from the family for birthdays and Christmas”. They liked their stepmother and the friends they had made and this in turn was experienced as a significant loss on their return to their left-behind parent in their country of residence. They now have restored relationships with their maternal extended family which are significant to them. One young person has found that his relationship with his left-behind father was very difficult for a time and, as a consequence, contact with his younger siblings who remain with their father has been minimal. This causes him concern for the future of his younger brother’s relationship with their mother.

Most of the children are able to have some contact with the parent with whom they no longer live, whether they are the abductor or not. Only one has no direct face to face contact with her non-resident parent. In the case of three children contact is very much constrained by the continuing need for supervision and the refusal of the non- resident parent to abide by required conditions. Although one child now lives with the abducting parent, his trust in the other parent is significantly compromised, largely because he believes that this parent would remove him and indeed has tried to remove his sibling from school. As well as a lack of trust, these children express some anger and irritation with the non-resident parent for not making more effort to satisfy the courts or resident parents of their trustworthiness. One said that “Dad won’t talk to mum, doesn’t return us on time from contact and puts mum in a difficult position.” He would like to go and visit his dad but explains, “He’s refused to sign the court papers so I can’t be sure that I will be able to come back. He even bought a ‘plane ticket for me but then at the last minute refused to sign the papers so I couldn’t go. I was disappointed as it wasn’t just him I was going to see, it was everyone else.”

All of the children describe emotional pressures placed on them by one or other parent. One especially finds it difficult to talk to her abducting father without him becoming angry. Another said that his father tells him that his granddad is sick, that he may not get to see him again, that no-one there will like him anymore as he’s been away too long and that he is going to emigrate and will not see him again.


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