Adam Whittington, who spent four months in jail after the much-publicised rival sabotaged 60 Minutes child abduction, is calling for tougher laws to protect our kids.
2017: This time last year, Adam Whittington was in jail in Lebanon. The headline-grabbing 60 Minutes child abduction, which intended to bring Sally Faulkner’s two young children back home to Australia, ended with him being stranded in a cell for four months after a convicted Australian fraud and jealous rival company who lost the job, contacted the kidnapping father via email to look for Adam Whittington.
What a difference a year makes. Whittington is now focusing his energy on Project Rescue Children (PRC). The not-for-profit organisation has a base in the UK, Cambodia and will be launching in Australia in June.
Project Rescue Children is focused on combatting human trafficking, child exploitation and sexual exploitation.
The government must make it tougher
Ensuring children are safely with their custodial parents, however, is something which starts closer to home.
“The Australian Government must make it illegal for any parents of another nationality to take children overseas without permission,” he tells Kidspot. “There are current preventative measures that can be enforced through the family court, but in my experience, they are useless nine times out of 10.
“All across the country, children aren’t with parents they are court-ordered to spend time with. The parent is caught unaware or led in good faith to believe that their child will be returned after a holiday, for instance. Most parents willingly allow their children to be taken overseas. They will be reassured constantly by the abductor – if it even comes up in conversation. It is human nature to trust an ex-partner, when you have shared interest in the welfare of the children. That doesn’t always have positive outcomes for the children concerned.”
He draws on the example of Attorney General George Brandis who announced this week a crackdown on IPCA (International Parental Child Abduction). Since his release from prison he’s been lobbying the Australian Government hard. He’s been in contact with DFAT (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade), Julie Bishop and the Attorney General offering professional advice and recommending changes. Now, he hopes change is imminent.
It needs to be tougher
Proposed legal changes will make it a criminal offence, with a maximum jail term of three years to retain a child overseas beyond the agreed time frame.
“It’s a good step but nowhere near good enough,” says Whittington. “The offence can be overcome by using the Hague convention.”
Simply put, if an abductor hides a child in a country that is a signatory to the Hague Convention, they only have to wait 12 months before they can invoke article 12 of the convention. This states that an order to return a child can be revoked if the child has settled into his/her new environment.
“To be able to locate and extradite a child and the abductor back to Australia would be extremely costly. It would also be an incredibly lengthy process,” says Whittington. “All this time, as it ticks away, is time parents can’t reclaim with their children.”
Whittington makes several suggestions that the need to be followed to protect children.
“Not only does the law need to be strengthened that it is a crime to take a child out of Australia without consent but also to retain a child overseas,” he says. “The success of this would only depend on two factors. Firstly, the government would need to be able to place Interpol actions in place with the same swiftness and severity of a criminal convicted of a serious crime. They have to take it seriously. Secondly, the country that they flee to must honour the orders of Australia and assist to locate, arrest and extradite the abductor and children back to Australia. Until this happens, there will always be a market for child recovery agents to do what our government can’t – or won’t.”
He also refers to South Africa, which strengthened their travel laws in 2015. A parental consent affidavit was introduced; a certified document that requires both parents to sign, stating that full consent has been given for children to travel. It also outlines the dates the child is expected to return to their country of residence.
“It’s not 100 percent successful,” he says. “But introduction of the travel consent forms has reduced IPCA rates in South Africa. The Australian Government needs to take this issue seriously – domestically and internationally. I want to see change.”
* Project Rescue Children is holding a fundraiser on Saturday June 3, 2017 from 7-10pm at Watermark Hotel and Spa, Surfers Paradise. All funds raised on the night go directly to operations to rescue children.