300 children are kidnapped every year in Australian due to domestic disputes, and with an average of two children being abducted every week, Australia has the highest rate per capita of international parental child abductions in the world.
Al Jazeera 101 East Bringing Them Home has investigated the cases of Kennedy Kembo, and Patricia N. who have both been separated from their children after their partners took them from Australia, illegally, to Indonesia and Taiwan respectively. Kennedy Kembo hired private investigators that specialised in retrieving kidnapped children, as a last resort to find his little girl. As Indonesia and Taiwan have not signed the Hague Convention, there is little that Australian authorities can do to bring these kidnapped children home.
Airing on the 8th October, Al Jazeera 101 East Bringing Them Home brings this emotional topic to light, exploring the lengths that parents separated from their children are going to in order to bring them back to Australia. The program will also be available to view online, here.
Question: Why did you choose to host Bringing Them Home?
Steve Chao: Initially what struck us was the fact Australia has the highest rate of international parental abduction in the world. But it was really when we started talking to parents, and listening to their heartbreak, that we began to see how important an issue parental kidnapping is.
International parental abductions tear families apart, they often tramautize children, and the legal fees, the cost of searching for a child, can bankrupt the parent that's been left behind.
Families are at the core of our communities. And with the ease of travel these days, and a growing number of international marriages, cases of international parental abductions will only grow. And so for all these reasons, we decided to examine this issue in our film.
Question: Why is this topic close to your heart?
Steve Chao: When I was just six, my mother and father went through a bitter divorce. In the ensuing mess of the situation, my sister and I were taken for a brief period, by our father. After a tense standoff with police, and then following months an intensive court battle, our mother won custody of us. But the entire experience was stressful and took an emotional toll on everyone.
And so, to a small extent, I can relate to the trauma that many of these families go through. And the lasting question in my mind, as we spent time with parents, and with former abducted children, is how do we prevent more cases of this from happening? Are governments doing enough to prevent parents from making such destructive decisions to take their children away.
Question: What did you learn from being involved in the production of Bringing Them Home?
Steve Chao: I learned how very much alone these parents are in their fight to bring their children home. Yes, there are some social support services for them. Yes, the Australian government is providing a degree of legal funding to help in court custody cases overseas. But oftentimes, parents have to search on their own to find out what is available to them. They have to fight with authorities to convince them to support their case, and to do things like issue a temporary passport for their children. They also at times have to deal with foreign governments, and foreign courts. And as time draws on, often the support they receive from friends wanes. Others move on – but that 'left-behind" parent can't move on… They are still fighting to find and to bring back their child/children.
Question: What was the most difficult part about filming Bringing Them Home?
Steve Chao: We as a team on the whole wrestled with whether a parent should in fact go and physically retrieve their child – whether they should essentially steal their child back. Even though courts have granted custody to the 'left-behind" parent, the act itself still risks re-traumatizing a child.
But… in saying that… we decided to follow a parent through this course of hiring a 'Child Recovery Specialist", and then actually travelling to that country to bring back his child. We documented this journey because we hoped to show the emotional impact this has on all parties involved.
And along the way, we believe it allows us, as a society, to debate whether more laws need to be put in place to prevent parental kidnappings in the first place.
Our ending is unique, in that the parent we follow chooses a different path. But we won't spoil it by saying here what happened. Please watch the film.
Question: What do you hope audiences take from Bringing Them Home?
Steve Chao: Here I will quote Ken Thompson, from the Coalition for Left Behind Parents: 'If a jumbo jet carrying 300 children disappeared every year, there'd be an outcry about it… public demands for things to be done… but we have 300 children disappearing every year from international parental abductions… they mostly disappear under the radar… and nothing is being done about it."
Interview by Brooke Hunter