On the afternoon of August 13, Saturday, “Purple Ribbon—Mother’s Love”, a Mandarin language press conference on the issue of parental child abduction, was held in Shikongtang, next to Honglingjin Park south entrance. Read the translated stories and comments below.
Due to concerns about privacy, possible negative impacts on their working environment and interaction with friends and acquaintances, many of these parents chose anonymity in the process of sharing their stories. In the written descriptions of the parents’ experiences provided at the conference, each individual was referred to using the nickname of their child. This method of reference will be used throughout this article for a number of individuals as well.
Haohao’s mother came to China from Malaysia by herself to work 12 years ago, and met her ex-husband then and married after three months. They were married for 9 years, during which period she experienced long-term domestic violence, humiliation, and control via financial means, but chose forgiveness each time. On July 30, 2013, when Haohao’s mother was about to leave on a business trip, her ex-husband took Haohao away and hid him, resulting in the separation of the child from his mother for 820 days. She filed for divorce and successfully obtained the custody of her child, yet was still unable to locate Haohao. After 8 months of court proceedings, she decided to locate the child herself, as the court told her that as long as the other parent refuses to cooperate, it is very difficult for the court to help her execute her custody rights. On October 11 of 2015, the mother was able to reunite with her son in Changchun.
However, within the week of the mother and child being reunited, the court ordered that the pair is not to be allowed to exit China, presenting a problem as the mother and child are of Malaysian nationality, and wish to see their family in Malaysia. The reason stated by the court for this restriction on their ability to travel is to ensure that the father’s visiting rights of 24 hours per week is fulfilled. The mother was informed that once the father has seen the child, the restrictions will be removed, however when the mother conceded, the restrictions still stayed in place. Furthermore, when the visit took place, the father’s family members tried once again to forcibly take the child away in front of the entrance of the courthouse.
Ms. Wu met her husband at a gathering of friends. They fell in love and married, and had a son towards the end of 2013. On March 8, 2014, Women’s Day, Ms. Wu experienced the first instance of domestic violence with her husband. The reason was that she refused to go to a bar with him and wanted to stay at home to rest due to feeling fatigued. Her husband yelled that he wanted to divorce her, held her against a wall by her neck and slapped her repeatedly across the face. Ms. Wu accepted her husband’s apology after the incidence, but found that the situation worsened over time. In August of 2015, Ms. Wu found that her husband had committed adultery, and during that time it was common for her husband not to return home at night. Ms. Wu eventually filed for divorce, and a hearing was scheduled for February 25, 2016. On February 10, 2016, Ms. Wu’s husband, along with his relatives and ten unidentified individuals entered the residence of Ms. Wu’s parents by force. They took the child away from Ms. Wu using violence. Ms. Wu reported the incidence to the police, but has yet to hear back on the processing of the case.
Since then, Ms. Wu has been unable to find her son, and has not seen him to this day, having been separated for a duration of about half a year. Now, she wishes to successfully divorce her husband and obtain custody of her child, for she believes he is not capable of taking care of their son due to lack of experience. “My husband is almost 30, and he would just lie on the sofa while his mother cuts his toenails for him. Since my child was born, he has never once spent a night with him, never once fed him. It’s impossible for him to raise the child himself. He can’t even take care of himself,” Ms. Wu said.
Hanhan’s mother found out throughout the course of her marriage that Hanhan’s father engaged in numerous affairs. She experienced instances of verbal and physical abuse, and eventually wished to pursue a divorce. After the divorce, she upheld the father’s visiting rights, but he refused to contribute financially to raising the child. In 2014, her ex-husband apologized and appeared to desire reconciliation with Hanhan’s mother, while hiding the fact that he had remarried and had another child. On December 4, 2015, under pretenses of taking Hanhan away for a visit, Hanhan’s father hid and kept him away from his mother by keeping the child at home and not allowing him to go outside. When Hanhan’s mother expressed a wish to take the child back, Hanhan’s father’s family members threatened her with force, and at one point pointed a knife at her. Several attempts at a resolution by the court proved futile. Now, Hanhan’s mother wishes to execute her custody rights and be allowed to raise her child. She is grieved that Hanhan now no longer recognizes her as his mother. She is concerned at the way Hanhan is being raised and the written description states that the child is allowed to continuously play computer and cell-phone games, watch television, has been allowed to not sleep for an entire night, and was given medication not suitable for children when ill.
In 2013, Youyou’s parents divorced because of his father’s series of affairs. At the time of the divorce, custody was granted to his father. The mother did not have objections at the time because she believed the issue of custody was only a matter of paperwork, and knew that in reality she would be raising the child because of the nature of the father’s pilot work and absence at home. In 2015, Youyou’s mother received a phone call from her ex-husband stating their son has already moved away to Beijing with his paternal grandfather. Youyou’s mother and maternal grandparents have not been separated from Youyou since he was born, and wished desperately to see the child again. They requested to visit him in Beijing or have him brought back to them in Tianjin but were refused. They are only able to see Youyou when he goes back to Tianjin for his dentist appointments. “My child told me: ‘I don’t brush my teeth at night. If I have good teeth then I can’t see you,'” Youyou’s mother said.
On July 18, 2015, Youyou’s mother took Youyou away upon the child’s request, and immediately notified his father and paternal grandfather via a phone call, requesting to take the child on holiday since it is his summer break. On July 20, the mother requested that the court change their ruling on the child’s custody, allowing her to raise the child instead. On August 1, while the father was on a flight in America, two of his friends, his sister and brother-in-law, as well as a cousin along with others came to take Youyou away from his mother, and acted violently towards the mother in the process. In September, her lawyer was notified by the court that changing the custody of the child would not be a problem, and can be finalized within a week. However, at the end of September, her ex-husband told her through her cousin that she should withdraw the case from the court, and that they had given the judge money. On September 25, when once again in court, the judge’s attitude towards the case was drastically changed. As a result of his questioning, the father was able to locate the child and take him away, and the mother has not seen the child for 10 months now, according to written materials provided at the press conference.
Chenchen’s mother, Ms. Dai, grew up in North America and first met Chenchen’s father in Guilin in 2005 while filming a movie together. They married in 2009. After marriage, Chenchen’s father displayed violent tendencies and demonstrated a belief that he is superior and should be listened to in the family. “I wanted to take a bath, but there’s no hot water at his family home, so I wanted to go outside to take a bath. He felt that it was disrespectful to his family. This was the first instance of domestic violence. He hit me hard with a broomstick, and pressed a pillow into my face, not letting me breathe,” said Ms. Dai. After the first instance of domestic violence, Chenchen’s mother asked her husband to move out and asked for a divorce. However, she eventually chose to forgive him and let the matter go. Not long after, Chenchen was born. Over differences of opinion on how to raise the child, the couple became more estranged from one another, and instances of violence increased. Ms. Dai decided to file for divorce. After the divorce, the court gave the father custody of the child, along with the couple’s shared property. For psychological harm, the court ordered a compensation of only RMB 5000. Ms. Dai has not seen her son once for over 920 days.
Ms. Feng Yuan, a journalist, professor, and consultant, Mr. Qi Lian Feng, a lawyer, Mr. Yang Xiao Lin, a lawyer, Ms. Li Ying, a lawyer, and Ms. Wang Xing Juan were among the press conference’s invitees. They collectively made numerous observation and comments on the issue outlined and described above.
Ms. Li Ying commented that although almost all of the testimonies shared a trend of domestic violence, very few of the cases constituted an actual court ruling that recognized instances of domestic violence took place. If a recognition by a court of instances of domestic violence was in place, then an effective unilateral decisions for a divorce would be made possible, and the issues of those wishing for a divorce being stuck in a marriage would be resolved. The issue of custody could then be discussed after the divorce has been finalized. Mr. Qi Lian Feng acknowledged that there are problematic legal loopholes at work in this issue, exacerbating the problem. For example, if guardianship rights are violated, courts are often uninterested in addressing a case while the parents of the child are still married. Mr. Qi Lian Feng also stated that it is his belief that domestic violence stems fundamentally from an imbalance in power dynamics between those engaged in interpersonal relationships.
Mr. Yang Xiao Lin observed that if the fulfillment of guardianship duties are better enforced for if consequences for non-fulfillment of these duties are implemented, then issues of custody being granted to a party that does not really take care of the child would be more smoothly resolved, because often the parent given custody of the child does not actually raise the child himself or herself, but rather gives the child to grandparents or other relatives. It was observed that it is very important to recognize that relatives of the guardians cannot replace the guardians themselves when it comes to fulfilling their guardianship duties once granted custody of the child.
Furthermore, Mr. Qi Lian Feng brought up that a key issue relevant to this topic is the fact that nowhere in legal literature is there clearly written that a parent with a history of committing domestic violence cannot be granted custody, which is why there is no direct obstacle to courts ruling in a way that gives custody to the perpetrator of domestic violence despite knowledge of their disturbing tendencies towards violence.
In addition to discussion of the legal implications of the above-mentioned matters, the psychological impact of instances of domestic violence and parent child abduction were also a topic of the event. Ms. Feng Yuan discussed how it has been shown via research, and is now known by many, that children growing up in families where they witness domestic violence are at a higher risk of becoming perpetrators or victims themselves once they’ve grown up. They may have more problems and difficulties with social interactions and interpersonal relationships in the future than children growing up in families without instances of domestic violence.
Furthermore, the observations to be made from a societal gender studies perspective on this issue are evidently numerous, with far-reaching significance, not only in present-day society, but also culturally, traditionally, and historically speaking. At least from the sample of the testimonies presented at the press conference on Saturday, it can be seen that the children being fought over and abducted are overwhelmingly male. Ms. Li Ying pointed out how through this is manifested China’s tradition of seeing the male as an heir to the family name, who can carry on the family lineage, so to speak. While there are instances of neither parents wishing to raise the child after a divorce as well, in cases where both sides are fighting over custody of the child, it is safe to say that the greater percentage of these cases include male children, the invited speakers noted. Evidently, such deeply rooted cultural beliefs and traditions that favor the male gender over the female are highly problematic and profoundly troubling, with negative impacts on children of both genders.
The press conference was held in order to raise awareness and make connections to individuals with relevant personal experience, interest, or expertise, hence, it is much encouraged for as many as possible to look into this issue in order to better understand it and move towards developing more effective strategies of resolution.
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