In China, child abduction in order to obtain custody

Both men and women wrestled Wang Jianna to the ground. Holding her legs and shoulders, they snatched her 6-month-old baby from her arms...


Both men and women wrestled Wang Jianna to the ground. Holding her legs and shoulders, they snatched her 6-month-old baby from her arms and started running.

A surveillance camera captured everything. But there was little Ms. Wang could do: the person leading the kidnapping on the street in front of her mother’s house was her partner, the baby’s father.

Police in northeast China’s Tianjin City refused to get involved, Wang said, saying it was not possible for a parent to abduct their own child. Then, a court granted sole custody to Ms. Wang’s partner, citing the need to keep the baby in a “familiar environment.”

That afternoon in January 2017 was the last time Ms. Wang saw her daughter in person.

“I feel deeply wronged,” Ms. Wang, 36, said. “Although the kidnapping was unreasonable and unjustified, the court still upheld it.”

Custody battles can be bitter business anywhere in the world. In China, where courts rarely grant joint physical custody, disputes over children are particularly acrimonious. Judges often keep children in their current living environment, claiming that it is better for their well-being. But it creates a perverse incentive for parents going through separation to abduct and hide their children for sole custody.

Nine months after Ms. Wang’s child was abducted, Tianjin police admitted in a final report that her partner, Liu Zhongmin, had injured Ms. Wang and her mother during a “physical argument over a child, ”according to a copy of the New York Times report. The police ordered Mr. Liu to serve a 10-day administrative detention term and pay a fine of about $ 75 for causing physical damage. But the police did not blame him for taking the child.

Credit…Wang jianna

Mr. Liu could not be reached for comment. His the lawyer and one of those suspected of being involved in the kidnapping hung up the phone when asked to comment.

For decades, Chinese law has not made it a crime for parents to abduct and hide their own children. The problem has become more widespread as the divorce rate in the country has increased. regularly increased. Most divorces in China are settled privately, which can lead to shared custody agreements. But for couples who go to court, it’s often all or nothing.

In June, the government sought to address the issue by banning kidnappings for the purposes of police custody. Activists hailed the law but said it was too early to say if it would make a difference.

An estimated 80,000 children were abducted and hidden for custody in 2019, according to a recent report by Zhang Jing, a prominent family lawyer in Beijing, citing figures released by China’s highest court.

Many say the numbers are probably higher. Long-time judge in southern China’s Guangzhou city told state media in 2019 more than half of the contested divorce cases she saw involved the abduction of a child for custody.

More often than not, the fathers are behind the kidnappings. Men were responsible for more than 60 percent of these cases, Ms. Zhang found. The kidnappings mainly involved sons under the age of 6, reflecting the traditional emphasis in China on boys as bearers of the surname.

“It has almost become a game – whoever has physical custody has legal custody,” said Dai Xiaolei, who founded Purple Ribbon Mother’s Love, a grassroots rights group, after losing a battle for it. babysitting with her ex-husband. “It’s a free-for-all. “

In some cases, the abduction of children for the purpose of obtaining custody is part of a larger pattern of domestic violence. Official statistics show that about one in three families are victims of domestic violence.

Ms. Wang said the violence against her began in 2016, when she was about five months pregnant with her daughter, Jiayi. She and Mr. Liu lived together; they had never officially registered their marriage. A month after Ms. Wang gave birth, she said, Mr. Liu beat her again after she asked him to buy diapers.

Court documents confirmed that Ms. Wang told a judge that Mr. Liu often argued with her “over trivial matters, even hitting and insulting her.” Mr. Liu rejected Ms. Wang’s custody request but did not respond to her specific demands, according to the documents.

The violence continued for months, Ms. Wang said, until she could no longer take the beatings. At her request, her in-laws took her and her baby to her parents, she said. Mr. Liu showed up once to try to grab the child, but left after the police arrived, Ms. Wang said. During the following month, she did not hear from him.

The next time, she said, he ordered people to help him tear the baby off. Ms. Wang appealed when a judge granted her full custody, but the judge upheld the arrangement, according to court documents.

Child custody disputes have only recently become a major problem in China. Traditionally, a woman who files for divorce had to give up custody of her children. But that has changed over the years as women in China have gained more financial stability and independence.

On paper, Chinese law leans slightly in favor of women. In cases where the child is 2 years of age or younger, mothers are usually granted sole custody. But in practice, judges can be influenced by institutional and informal considerations which, according to experts, often give men an advantage. For example, men have access to more financial resources and goods, allowing them to make a stronger demand for custody.

“The law itself seems very neutral, but a lot of things behind it are not equal,” said He Xin, professor of law at the University of Hong Kong. “Women are often the losers.

Credit…Wang jianna

When Cindy Huang started considering divorce in 2014, she said, lawyers gave her this advice: take your child and hide it first.

Ms. Huang refused, believing that it was not necessary to take drastic measures to protect her right to be a parent of her own child. Shortly after filing for a divorce, her husband took their son away, she said. While the judge was sympathetic, she recalls in an interview, he told Ms. Huang that there was little he could do.

“The judge told me very clearly, ‘There is no way for us to take your child back from its father, so we cannot give you custody,” said Ms. Huang, 43.

After unsuccessfully appealing in 2016, Ms. Huang was allowed seeing her son in a cafe twice a month at meetings closely watched by her ex-husband. Ms. Huang said that she wished she had followed the lawyers’ advice.

“I thought to myself, ‘How is it possible that the law gives custody to the parent who took the child first? »», She declared. “I was stupid.”

Shortly after Ms. Wang’s ex-partner took their daughter away, he cut off all contact. Last year, Ms. Wang persuaded a court to force him to hand over photos of their daughter. They show a toddler with mats and piles of colorful toys. But the child’s face is obscured – a strategy, according to Ms. Wang, that was devised by her ex-partner to prevent her from ever recognizing their daughter and taking her away from him.

Four years later, she still dreams of reuniting with the baby she once cradled to fall asleep every night.

“If I don’t save her in my dreams, then I’m chasing her,” Ms. Wang said. “But her face appears white – I have no idea what she looks like.”

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