Tuesday, 25 May 2010

International Missing Children's Day today

Attorney-General Robert McClelland spoke in Canberra today to commemorate International Missing Children's Day:




First, may I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land we meet on – and pay my respects to their elders, both past and present.



· Minister for Home Affairs, Hon Brendan O'Connor;

· AFP Commissioner, Tony Negus;

· Chief Police Officer for the ACT, Roman Quaedvlieg;

· Executive Director International Social Services, Fiona Skiotis



Today we are here to raise awareness about international parental child abduction.



This year’s focus for International Missing Children’s Day serves to remind us that sometimes children are abducted by the very people they trust the most – one of their parents. These children are taken away from almost everything that is familiar to them - their home, their friends and their familiar routines – often to a place far away that is strange to them.



Usually we know where an abducting parent has taken a child, through family, friends and official investigations. But sometimes the children must sadly be added to the list of internationally missing children.



Hague Convention



One of the best ways we have at present to combat international parental child abduction is the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. This international agreement currently operates in 81 countries worldwide, and more countries regularly seek to join it.



Since 1987 when the Convention entered into force in Australia, the Attorney-General’s Department has dealt with around 200 cases each year of international parental child abduction.



The Hague Convention provides the international legal means to overcome challenges and barriers that exist when a child is taken out of the jurisdiction they usually live in by a parent.



The Australian Government, through the Central Authority, works with similar authorities in the other Hague countries to locate and return children.



Support and Cooperation



I am pleased to be here today to outline Australia’s support to parents attempting to locate their children overseas and have them returned to Australia. Australia provides one of the highest levels of support in this regard in the world.



The Attorney-General’s Department does an enormous amount of work to locate these children and have them returned. Of the around 200 parental child abduction cases a year, most children abducted to and from Australia are found.



Case officers work on individual cases and provide a high level of support, including:

· Providing assistance in making a return application to a foreign government;

· arranging for translation of key documents;

· placing children onto Airport Alert Lists; and

· taking a range of other practical steps that are needed in individual cases, such as checking immigration and passport records, and referring parents to social support services.



There are many services funded by the Australian Government to support parents whose children have been taken. This includes several telephone numbers that concerned parents can call, including:

· an information phone line run by the Attorney-General’s Department that parents can call about what to do if they fear their child might be abducted, to check what countries are parties to the Hague Convention, and how to make an application for the return of a child - 1800 100 480.

· Parents can enquire about placing children’s names on the Airports Watch List by phoning the Australian Federal Police – (02) 9286 4000.

· Parents can get assistance from the Consular Section of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade – 1300 555 135.



The Attorney-General’s Department provides a specialist website with information for parents and legal advisers. The Department also provides financial assistance to attend court hearings overseas and to cover overseas legal costs.



The Australian Government also helps fund International Social Services, for the International Parental Child Abduction Service. This is a telephone referral and support service for families who are affected by international child abduction. The service has proved very effective in assisting parents in this difficult time and of encouraging the resolution of disputes outside a courtroom wherever possible.



Most importantly, partnerships have been forged both nationally and internationally across law enforcement agencies to find children abducted by their parents, and to identify and promote the significance of international parental child abduction in the community.



The Australian Federal Police, State and Territory Police, Interpol, International Social Services, the Attorney-General’s Department and other law enforcement agencies all work together to locate and progress the return of children who have been abducted by a parent.



Awareness



It is important for parents who suspect their child might be at risk of parental abduction to be aware of what can be done to prevent it.



In particular, the Airport Watch List is an invaluable way of preventing children from leaving the country without permission from the Courts or the other parent.



Through events such as today’s event and the specialist child abduction website, parents can learn about risks and what can be done to address them.



The key government agencies involved including the Attorney-General’s Department, the AFP, State Central Authorities, law enforcement and welfare agencies in the States and Territories, Immigration, the Passports Office, Centrelink and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade all continually work together. The Attorney General’s Department facilities regular meetings with these stakeholders, to discuss new ways of dealing with this difficult issue.



In conclusion, I would like to thank the families who have been courageous enough today to come forward to remind us and to share their stories about international parental child abduction.



Events like today are invaluable in raising community awareness of the problem of international parental child abduction.



To all the families and friends affected, I wish you the best, and hope our combined efforts will help bring your children home.



Thank you.

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