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2020-10-20 10:56:35

Abducting and hiding children during custody battles is not uncommon in China, but new legislation has just criminalized such practices.

A provision in the landmark amendment to China’s child protection law stipulates that parents of minors “cannot compete for custody by snatching or concealing the child.” The provision was among several new articles added to the country’s revised Law on the Protection of Minors, slated to go into effect on June 1, 2021.

Family lawyers and women’s rights advocates have welcomed the government’s move against parental abduction — the first time the pervasive yet largely glossed-over phenomenon has been written into law.

“The light has finally come,” Ming Yue, a family law specialist at Guantao Law Firm in Shanghai, told Sixth Tone. “We now have a legal basis for curbing the phenomenon of child abduction.”

Custody disputes during divorce filings can give rise to bitter family feuds, with children being kidnapped or otherwise concealed in over half of such cases in China, according to Purple Ribbon, a grassroots nonprofit dedicated to criminalizing parental kidnapping. Many concealed children were under the age of 6, and some did not have contact with the other parent for a decade.

Experts say parental abductions in China have actually become a shortcut to winning custody battles, since courts are more likely to decide that a child should remain in their current living arrangement. Unlike legislation in other countries — including the United States and the United Kingdom — that outlaws parental abduction, China hasn’t had a law addressing the problem until now.

“Judges are usually quite passive when dealing with divorce cases,” Ming said. “They tend to tone down the issue instead of prioritizing benefits to children. Now, judges can rule against parents who kidnap the children on the grounds that it violates the child protection law.”

Ming added that women are more likely to suffer in cases of parental kidnappings, as their male partners will abduct the children if they’re afraid of losing custody. In April, over 100 mothers who had lost their children to parental kidnappings signed a Purple Ribbon petition calling for legislation to criminalize the act.

Editor: Bibek Bhandari.

(Header image: Moment/People Visual)