Hague Convention helps man find son taken to wife's homeland

For one month, an Australian businessman, 36, roamed Hougang searching for his two-year-old son.

His Singaporean wife had taken their only child and fled from Melbourne, where the family lived, and all he knew was that she used to live in Hougang.

"I was shocked and frantic (when she called at the Melbourne airport, saying she was leaving)," he said. "It was terrible... I had no contact with my son for one year."

The couple often fought, but he had no clue that she was planning to take their son and leave.

She stopped answering his calls and blocked him on Facebook.

He was worried sick about his son's well-being.

After about a year, he turned to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction for help.

In 2010, Singapore acceded to the convention - a multilateral treaty to "protect children from the harmful effects" of abduction by parents. It seeks to return a child who has been wrongfully removed from the country he was living in, so that decisions about the child's welfare or custody can be made by the appropriate jurisdiction.

However, the convention applies only to cases where both countries are members who also recognise the other party's accession.

In the businessman's case, both Australia and Singapore are signatory states and Australia has recognised Singapore's accession.

More than 50 countries have recognised Singapore's accession, including Britain, the United States and Japan.

However, many Asian countries, such as Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, with many of their nationals wed to Singaporeans, have neither signed the convention nor recognised Singapore's accession.

After the Australian businessman sought the convention's help, the Singapore Central Authority (SCA) located his wife.

The SCA, which comes under the purview of the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), facilitates the return of abducted children under the convention.

The Family Justice Courts here also ordered his ex-wife to let him take the boy back to Australia.

The couple are now divorced and the man lives with his son in Melbourne.

He said: "If not for the Hague Convention, I might never have been able to see my son again."

Since the SCA was set-up in 2011, it has handled 27 outgoing cases - those where a child is taken from Singapore to a signatory country.

It has also dealt with 17 incoming cases - those where a child is taken from a signatory country and brought to Singapore. These cases involved a total of 63 children who were living in countries like Japan, Australia, the US and some European Union nations.

An MSF spokesman said the SCA works closely with other government agencies to locate the children. It also facilitates a child's homecoming, by persuading the parent who wrongfully removed the child to return him, among other things.

For example, it persuaded a Singaporean woman to resolve her marital differences with her husband for their two children's sake. The family had moved overseas due to her husband's work, but she could not cope with life there and her marriage started breaking down.

So she took their children back to Singapore, without her husband's consent, and rejected his pleas for their return.

He turned to the convention for help and the SCA persuaded the couple to attend counselling sessions. They have agreed to work on their differences to minimise the impact of their unhappiness on their children.

Theresa Tan

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 02, 2017, with the headline Hague Convention helps man find son taken to wife's homeland. Subscribe