Day and night of vigilance from agony and pain. A parent is waiting for the return of his child, who will fill his arms again and bring a smile to his lips. The nightmare of parental abduction is the greatest torment for a parent. A Golgotha, which is gaining momentum in Cyprus as well. It is indicative that from 2018 to 2020, a total of 25 children were abducted by one of their two parents and taken outside Cyprus.
According to the official data provided by “Φ” from the Police, in the last three years a total of 19 complaints of parental abduction were submitted, which concerned 25 children, of which until today it has been possible to return only 11. Specifically, the In 2018, the complaints amounted to three and concerned four children, who were able to return to our island. In the year 2019, 11 complaints were made about parental abductions, involving 14 children, of which seven returned. In 2020, five parental abduction complaints were lodged against seven children, none of whom have been able to return so far.
A feature of these cases is the abduction of children by the foreign parent, usually either by escaping from the “hole” of the occupiers, or after a pre-planned family trip to the parent's country of origin. It is worth noting that the return of a child to Cyprus is the culmination of a multilevel and marathon effort, which often requires, in addition to the involvement of legal authorities, the activation of diplomatic and political means, with an important role to play in the level of its relations. Cyprus with the affected states and the marathon race of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The intervention of the Police
Following a complaint of parental abduction, as usual, the Police first take action, which initiates the appropriate procedures. As the police officer of TAE Larnaca, Stella Botsari, told “F”, from the moment she receives a complaint for parental abduction, the Police moves the mechanism, taking a statement from the complainant, activating the disappearance notice “yellow notice”, proceeding to the application arrest warrants through Europol or Interpol and informing the competent authorities of the countries.
In case the alleged perpetrator is located, as Mrs. Botsari pointed out, he is arrested by the foreign authorities and after the transfer of members of the Cyprus Police Force and his receipt from the foreign country, he is tried in Cypriot territory. The role of the Police ends with the conviction or acquittal of the alleged abductor in court.
Ms. Botsari noted that she has handled 10 such incidents so far. “Every case has its difficulty” , pointed out the experienced police officer, emphasizing that “apart from the criminal-professional aspect of the issue, there is also the human one, since you are dealing with parents who are suffering”. In addition, as he explained, “there are times when we do not even know in which country the child has been transferred. And it is very different to look abroad, outside the territory and jurisdiction of Cyprus “.
A characteristic feature of the management of these cases, as Mrs. Botsari explained, is that you connect with the parent, while they have a demanding nature, as you develop communication in your personal time, which can be a source of friction in the family environment of the police officer. However, what remains is the happy result, the police officer stressed. “This is our payment when parents take their child back. “I am happy when the complainant feels happy”, Ms. Botsari finally stated.
The story of little Joseph
The moving case of Vasiliki Andreou and Joseph , who was literally abducted through her arms, after being abused by the child's father in his country of origin, Egypt, 18 months ago, is a typical case, which with with the assistance of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other competent services, had a happy ending in early 2021, with the return of the little one to Cyprus.
The story of Vasiliki was brought to light by the show “24 Hours” about eight months ago, when her mother went there to raise awareness about the issue. Since then, as Vasiliki reported in “F”, the case moved quickly, as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Christodoulidis, and the head of the Office of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, diplomat Neophytos Konstantinos, became personally involved in the issue. In addition to the diplomatic actions that took place, the Basilica had to sue little Joseph through the Egyptian courts, hence he had to go to Egypt twice in the last months. In this context, the legal support received from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Cypriot Embassy in Cairo was important, as well as the financial assistance to meet the costs, which was strengthened by ordinary citizens, after the publication of the issue.
As Vassiliki described to us, from the moment she arrived in Cyprus, after her abuse and the abduction of the child by his father in Egypt, where they had gone on a family trip, the marathon effort began to bring her child back. , through continuous deposits, with an important role initially the assistance of the Police, Interpol, but also the personal involvement of the Larnaca police officer Stella Botsari, with whom he eventually developed a life relationship.
After last June, as he noted, the involvement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was decisive , “as Mr. Christodoulidis promised me that everything possible would be done to get my child back, which really happened, after the threads “. Since then, as Vasiliki stated, the personal effort made by the competent diplomat, Neophytos Konstantinou, with whom he developed and continues to maintain daily communication on a permanent basis, was enormous. In addition to the above, the young mother praised the role played during her stay in Egypt and the anxious effort to secure custody of her child, the Consular Officer at the Cyprus Embassy in Egypt, Aristos Assiotis, as well as Pres of Cyprus, Homer Mavrommatis.
Now, two months after the happy ending, the Basilica is looking to the future with optimism, raising little Joseph , who, as he said, may not have accepted her very comfortably during their first contact in the Egyptian court, but it was enough. then to feel her heartbeat and to revive the relationship of the mother with the son, who was violently snatched from her arms when she was only 40 days old.
Multilevel action by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs maintains a leading role in complex cases of parental abduction in foreign countries, especially when they are not parties to the Hague International Convention, but also in cases where there are “gray zones” in terms of its implementation.
Following a multilevel action plan, the return of minors from Egypt, Lebanon and Syria has recently been successfully settled, with similar additional cases pending in China, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and Russia . with five of them concerning complaints from mothers and two from fathers.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nikos Christodoulidis, from 2018 when he took office, decided that the handling of parental abductions has a coordinating management role by the Minister's Office itself. As Mr. Christodoulidis told “F”, “such issues are a priority, which is why I have appointed a clerk from my Office, Neophytos Konstantinos – who deals daily, among other things, with these cases.” He explained that the assistance of the ministry is focused on the utilization of the diplomatic relations of Cyprus, especially with the states of the region, so that we have a result as soon as possible. He also stressed that in the context of utilizing the existing political and diplomatic tools, we must always move within the framework of legality. “In no case can we direct the violation of the laws of the country, as you must behave with respect to the country with which the whole issue is related”, it is typically stated.
Mr. Christodoulidis noted that “certainly, the fact that we maintain excellent relations with our neighboring countries helps to put matters at the level of Foreign Minister, President and relevant ministers”, something that helps us to have faster results. He also pointed out that “until the last case before us is settled, we will not stop dealing with it, because we fully understand the difficulties and pain caused to parents by the loss of their children. “The persistence and goal-setting of the parents is very important and gives courage and strength to us as well”, noted Mr. Christodoulidis.
The minister touched on the difficulties that exist in the case of Cyprus, due to the perforated point of the line of confrontation and the passage to the occupied territories, as in several cases the illegal airport of Tympos is used as an escape route for the kidnappers. He pointed out that special attention should be paid to the management of such “subtle” issues, as they could be a cause of disruption of relations between countries, since in most cases the abductee is a Cypriot citizen “. “So if not given enough attention, it could turn into a diplomatic incident, so they are very politically sensitive issues,” he said, adding that “while you are building friendly relations, an incident could jeopardize them.”
He also referred to the excellent cooperation that exists with competent bodies , such as Interpol and the Ministry of Justice, while he made special mention of the important role played by foreign embassies in Cyprus, as well as the embassies of Cyprus abroad.
“Excellent coordination and teamwork required”
The deputy head of the Foreign Minister's Office, diplomat Neophytos Konstantinos, spoke about his active involvement in these cases, which began three years ago . “In 2018, when the Minister of Foreign Affairs took office, as he is sensitive to these humanitarian issues and wanted to receive personal information on the course of affairs, he asked me to take, in addition to my other duties, the coordinating role. in the handling of such cases “. “After 2018, therefore, due to the executive role developed by the minister's office, these cases have progressed significantly, with the Consular Affairs Directorate of the ministry playing a supporting role in all our actions,” said Mr. Konstantinou.
In particular, he explained that, in addition to the important role of our embassies on the ground, the fact that steps are taken by the office of the minister is perceived by countries that the issue now acquires political aspects, which enhances the importance attached to the other side. If there is a difficulty in the development of the case, the Foreign Minister himself communicates with his counterpart and therefore proceeds and the issue is resolved. “Essentially, excellent coordination and teamwork are required and the truth is that the minister himself is the driving force in advancing all these cases,” he concluded.
As to the nature of the incidents, the diplomat explained that one of the two parents usually decides before or after their separation to do so, without the other parent's permission and signature, either by fleeing the occupied territories or after a pre-planned family trip to his country of origin. “We are mainly interested in the fact that a Cypriot citizen is abroad against his will and mainly because he is a minor. If the country in which the child is located is a party to The Hague, then the Ministry of Justice takes over the case through the legal process. “But when the country has not ratified the Convention or if for any reason it is not implemented there, then the Ministry of Foreign Affairs takes action, activating the necessary diplomatic means”, he added.
He stressed that it takes time and method, because there are no magic solutions in these usually very complex cases, while regarding the parameters that can act as a deterrent, he explained that in the country where a minor child has been transferred there are often social or religious norms, which make the whole effort difficult.
He further added that, in addition to activating the diplomatic route, “we always respond in relation to legal aid, but also financially , whenever there is a real financial problem for the plaintiff.” If requested, we may offer on-site legal aid options in a third country, e.g. for the acquisition of guardianship, as our respective embassy can suggest options of lawyers for legal defense of our citizen, with him always making the final choice in case of civil cases, Mr. Konstantinou explained.
Regarding the management of cases, he pointed out that multilevel actions are being developed both with the embassies of the countries in Cyprus and with the embassies of Cyprus abroad, with the role of Cypriot diplomats abroad being crucial. “Strong diplomatic ties with a country are crucial . “If bilateral relations are highly developed with the other state, our actions are more likely to be more effective – as we saw in the recent case of the return of a minor from Egypt,” said the active diplomat, adding that “when there is successful bilateral cooperation in a series of topics and for the third country Cyprus is identified as a “gateway or bridge with the EU”, such as the dynamics created by the network of tripartite cooperation with countries in the region, then the response from the other country is definitely more constructive. “
Finally, Mr. Konstantinou, who with his tireless efforts, plays a “key role” in the development of cases, also referred to the humanitarian aspect of the issue . “We do not see these cases as routine issues. Behind each case there is a personal drama and a small child who is away from home. “Any manipulations that touch the lives of our fellow human beings and you always identify with them, especially when you are also a parent”, he stated characteristically. He stressed that these are quite demanding cases, as you need to be constantly in coordination with the affected parents, very often outside working hours and until late at night, essentially describing the multifaceted and very demanding role that Cypriot diplomats play, both when they serve in Cyprus as well as abroad. “I could not sleep peacefully at night if we did not do what we could and if I knew that a parent is alone or alone in this struggle,” he said, expressing empathy, noting that it is difficult for us personally, because you are tortured every day for what you can do even more, so that each case leads to a happy ending “. “The successful outcome of the cases with the return of the children to their usual place of residence is our real reward”, concluded Mr. Konstantinou.
Civil aspects – The international legal framework
With regard to the international legal framework, it is noted that the illegal movement or detention of children in a state other than that of their normal residence by one of the two parents, in violation of the rights of the other parent left behind, is regulated internationally by the Convention. of The Hague on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction 1980 and applies only between the Contracting States .
This Convention is the basic legal tool that sets out the procedure for requesting the safe return of a child to his or her usual place of residence. In accordance with the procedure laid down in the Convention, if the conditions are met, namely a Contracting State, a child under the age of 16, 1 year of movement, etc., then the parent, who is deprived of the rights by the detention of the child in another State may apply to the Central Authority of the State of habitual residence and apply for the return of the child.
If the voluntary return of a child is not possible and no conciliation can be reached between the two parties, it is for the Courts of the State in which the child is detained to order or not the immediate return or to decide whether to ensure the effective exercise of the rights. communication.
However, in cases where a child has been relocated or detained in a State which is not a party and therefore not bound by the Convention, then in these cases, the affected parent, who contacts the Ministry of Justice and Public Order, consults as apply to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for any possible assistance through diplomatic channels. At the same time, he is urged to report the incident to the Police in order to investigate the criminal offense of illegal transportation or detention of a minor outside the Republic.
It is worth noting that in 2008 the transportation of a child outside the borders of the Republic of Cyprus was criminalized, without the consent of the other or his other legal guardians, which is considered kidnapping, with a sentence of up to 7 years in prison and a fine. In this way, the offense became extraditable, ie it can be requested by the state in which the illegitimate parent is, to extradite him to be tried in Cyprus, therefore it also acts as a lever of pressure for the return of the child.
In 2015, in view of the fact that there were similar cases where the child moved from Cyprus initially with the consent of the other parent, for the purpose of staying abroad for a few days, but later it appears that there is no intention to return , illegal detention of a minor outside borders of the Republic, also with a prison sentence of up to 7 years. In addition, because the illegal act (detention) takes place abroad, Article 5 of the Penal Code concerning extraterritorial jurisdiction was amended, so that in this case, too, the Cypriot courts have jurisdiction and extradition can be requested.
It should be noted, however, that this path is not always easy either, and in the case of countries with very different legal systems and cultures (Arab countries), even if bound by extradition agreements, they do not respond to extradition requests, citing the lack of dual criminality. , ie that in these countries (which recognize the absolute right of the father over the children) does not constitute an offense or an act for which extradition is sought.
It is finally noted that the cooperation of the Ministry of Justice and Public Order with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also applies to parental abductions involving Contracting States, while it is pointed out that in 2020 the Central Authority of the Republic of Cyprus has forwarded three applications to Contracting States and received respectively nineteen applications.