Crime & Justice

Pakistan joins US-led international body targeting child abductions

By Zia Ur Rehman

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Children participate in a painting competition in Karachi in February. Pakistan has begun working with the United States to address the problem of international child abduction under the Hague Abduction Convention. [Zia Ur Rehman]

ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan is now working as a new partner of an US-led international organisation that facilitates the return of children wrongly abducted by a parent across international borders.

The move reflects the continuing efforts of Pakistan and the United States in bolstering their "vibrant" relationship, officials and observers say.

Pakistan, through the the efforts of the US State Department, in July was officially accepted as a new partner of the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, also known as the Hague Abduction Convention.

The convention between the Washington and Islamabad officially came into force on October 1.

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Lawyers in Lahore in November 2019 discuss the issue of international child abductions. [Zia Ur Rehman] 

"The Convention will put in place an internationally recognised legal framework to resolve cases of parental child abduction between our two countries," the US Embassy in Islamabad said in a statement on its website on October 1.

"As partners, we will enhance our shared commitment to protecting children and open a new chapter in the vibrant US-Pakistan relationship," the State Department said in a separate statement.

The convention is a multilateral treaty that establishes procedures for the prompt return of children who have been wrongfully removed or kept away from their home country.

Partnership hailed

Children's rights bodies and legal specialists applauded the collaboration between the two countries.

The Office of Children's Issues, a State Department body, serves as the central authority for the United States under the convention. The United States now has 80 partners under the convention.

Pakistan is the fourth Muslim country and first South Asian country to sign the Hague Abduction Convention.

Becoming a partner under the convention will provide Pakistan a legal basis for preventing parental child abduction cases involving the United States, Canada and other countries, said Rana Asif Habib, director of the Initiator Human Development Foundation, a Karachi-based children's rights organisation.

"Family abduction is a crime, not a custody issue," Habib said.

In 2017, the number of cases in Pakistan totalled 25, involving 35 children. In 2018, the numbers stood at 26 cases and 37 children, according to an annual State Department report on international child abduction.

Still, the actual numbers are higher because the published figures reflect only those cases that were registered with the State Department, say children's rights activists.

Pakistan's accession is an important milestone in the global effort to protect children from the harmful effects of wrongful removal or retention across international borders, said Zahid Laghari, a Karachi-based lawyer who specialises in divorce and child custody cases.

Becoming a partner of the convention was necessary for Pakistan given that approximately 7 million Pakistanis live and work overseas, he said.

"It will help in resolving the dozens of international parental child abductions cases that are pending seeking justice in various courts of Pakistan, and a majority of them concern spouses who moved back from the United States to Pakistan and vice-versa," Laghari said.

Improving US-Pakistani relations

The move by the United States to bring in Pakistan under the convention demonstrates Washington's growing relationship with Islamabad on global issues including counter-terrorism, trade and crime, observers said.

Ties between Pakistan and the United States improved following a July 2019 meeting between Prime Minister Imran Khan and the US administration.

Pakistan should take account of tensions between Washington and Beijing in a reconsideration of its foreign policy, especially ties with China, say analysts.

Friction between Washington and Beijing has grown over a host of issues including trade, the coronavirus pandemic, the Chinese regime's human-rights abuses in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, its campaign of disinformation over its role in allowing the COVID-19 pandemic, and its increasingly belligerent use of its military.

Pakistani textile businesses and the country's technology sector already are eyeing potential markets that have emerged from the tensions.

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