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The children's voices

By Barbara Biggs - posted Tuesday, 24 February 2009

In a front page news story in The Australian recently, a mother who had abducted her preschool child to another country, was being hounded like a criminal following Family Court of Australia decisions. She abducted her preschool aged son to another country in March last year: she gave up a $100,000 a year job, her career, family and friends, for a life on the run.

She now has Interpol and the Australian Federal Police hunting her down and a public advertising campaign to try to find her in Europe, where she is believed to be living.

I spoke to her by phone briefly a week after her disappearance. She told me she took the child days after she heard a ruling in the Family Court of Australia giving the child’s father supervised access with his son for a period of months, followed by unsupervised access.


When the FCA orders supervised access, because of limited public funds, it has a time limit. But what, this mother asked, does the FCA think will have changed in the period between supervised and unsupervised access unless the original issues for which supervision was deemed necessary have been treated or addressed?

Many protective parents fleeing Australia because of domestic violence or sexual abuse will have their children removed and returned home under the Hague Convention Child Abduction Treaty.

Although 13(a) provides that children should not be returned if there is a fear of them being harmed physically or psychologically, 13(b), says that it should be narrowly interpreted and its application is rarely successful.

It is alarming that so many situations of children at risk of abuse are ignored.

Consider this Australian list.

  • 1996 Peter May shot his three children during a contact visit;
  • 1998 after Ronald Jonkers lost custody of his three children, he poisoned them on an access visit;
  • 1999 four children were gassed by their father Mark Heath after a family court dispute in Western Australia;
  • 2000 Rhonda Bartley was shot dead by her ex-partner in Berri while attending a court ordered contact handover of their baby daughter;
  • 2001 three children were smothered by their father on a contact visit in Sydney;
  • 2002 Ana Hardwick was strangled by her former partner after the FCA granted her custody of their children;
  • 2004 Jessie and Patrick Dalton were smothered by their separated father after the FCA order him to return his infant children to their mother;
  • 2005 Robert Farquharson killed his three sons by driving them into a Melbourne dam on a Fathers’ Day contact visit;
  • 2008 the body Imran Zilic, 3, was found after his father threw him down a mine on an access visit;
  • 2008 Christopher McEwen raped and killed his daughter Rhiannon on Bribie Island. The FCA awarded him custody of his three children in 2004 despite him suffering a severe mental illness; and
  • 2009 Arthur Freeman threw his daughter Darcey over the Westgate Bridge the day after a custody agreement had been reached.

The same is happening in other countries. One Australian woman had custody of her three children awarded to her ex-partner by a Canadian family court despite extensive evidence of domestic violence.

She has repeatedly written to the Australian Government asking why David Hicks, the Bali 9, Schapelle Corby and others have been given assistance to fight their legal cases abroad but she has received no such support to help protect her children from decisions made in another jurisdiction.

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The author has begun a petition calling on changes in the FCA.

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About the Author

Barbara Biggs is a former journalist and author of a two-part autobiography, In Moral Danger and The Road Home, launched in May 2004 by Peter Hollingworth and Chat Room in 2006. Her latest book is Sex and Money: How to Get More. Barbara is convenor of the National Council for Children Post-Separation,

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