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Australia asked to help stamp out parental child abduction in Asia Pacific
The Australian Government is being asked to look into the issue of parental child abduction in the Asia Pacific, as Catherine Graue reports.


Each year, thousands of children around the world are victims of parental child abduction.

There is an international legal treaty in place to try to deter the practice.

But many nations in the Asia Pacific are not signatories and now the Australian Government is being asked to try to change that.

Catherine Graue reports.
Transcript
CATHERINE GRAUE, REPORTER: These days, these family DVDs are as close to his daughter Emily that Sydney man Sam Giang can get.

The 6 year old now lives with her mother some 7,000km away in Vietnam, after Mr Giang's Vietnamese wife took their daughter four years ago, he claims, without his knowledge or consent.

SAM GIANG: I knew something not right but I don't know what is it. When I open the door, I turned the light on and look for my wife, Ilook for Emily. No one in the house. And then I saw a letter on the table.

She took Emily back to Vietnam. She took my only daughter and I love her the most in my life.

CATHERINE GRAUE: The ABC has spoken with Mr Giang's former wife who has chosen not to be interviewed on camera. But she says that Sam Giang had signed an agreement which, in her words, gave her 100 per cent custody of Emily.

Her former husband believes that agreement’s not legal because both parties failed to sign it. And so he has spent the past four years working to bring Emily back here to Australia.

Mr Giang gave up his job of 17 years to spend nearly two years in Vietnam in and out of the local courts, trying to bring Emily back. And he says it's now taken an emotional toll. He has bouts of serious depression and says he has twice tried to commit suicide.

SAM GIANG: I didn't want to do it. It was like something that I never thought is going to happen to me, that my wife took my daughter somewhere else. We were so happy. I have everything. It's like I was falling from a top floor to the ground floor.

CATHERINE GRAUE: Mr Giang, who moved to Australia from Vietnam with his parents in 1985, met his Vietnamese ex wife while she was an international student in Sydney. They fell in love and married soon after. Emily was born in October 2006.

Their story is tragic, however, it is by no means unique. Australian government statistics show 94 children were reported to have been wrongfully taken from the country over the past year.

GARY HUMPRHIES, AUSTRALIAN LIBERAL SENATOR: We do know the numbers have been rising. There have been a 74 per cent increase since 2003.

CATHERINE GRAUE: But those figures hide the true picture.

HELEN FRERIS, INTERNATIONAL SOCIAL SERVICE: We suspect that there are quite a number of removals and retentions of children that no one is recording because there isn't a place for that recording to occur.

CATHERINE GRAUE: That's because the only abductions recorded are those when a child is taken to a country that's signed the 1980 Hague Convention, a legal treaty that enables so called central authorities in both signatory countries to work together to facilitate the return of an abducted child as quickly as possible.

ANN WOLLNER, LAWYER: It tries to bring back children to where they usually live so that the courts where they usually live can determine what will happen when their parents break up to those children.

CATHERINE GRAUE: But within the Asia Pacific region, many countries haven't signed up. Fiji, New Zealand, Sri Lanka and Thailand are among a handful of signatory members.

Vietnam, like so many others, is not, which makes it extraordinarily difficult for a left behind parent like Sam Giang to get their child back.

ANN WOLLNER: If you have gone through the situation of losing your children and you are very distraught about that, then you have to encounter all the obstacles of a new legal system that may or may not be welcoming to foreigners, that may have a lot of obstacles you are not experienced with.

CATHERINE GRAUE: Under Australian law, Sam Giang has full legal custody of Emily, but he’s faced a massive legal battle to try to have that recognised in Vietnam, and has since sought assistance from the Australian Government, the Opposition, as well as his local member of parliament.

CHRIS HAYES, AUSTRALIAN LABOR MP: In Mr Giang's case, we have competing jurisdictions. Hopefully both jurisdictions will actually be looking at what's in the best interests of the child.

CATHERINE GRAUE: Mr Giang believes he has exhausted almost all his options and wants the Australian Government to do more to help his case.

CHRIS HAYES: What you are asking me is whether the Federal Government is prepared to intervene in the case in Vietnam and that's not something a government does.

CATHERINE GRAUE: Mr Giang is confident that, had Vietnam been a signatory to the Hague Convention, he would have had Emily back home a long time ago.

SAM GIANG: I hope that in the future the Australian Government can convince the Vietnamese government to join the Hague Convention.

CATHERINE GRAUE: Gary Humphries chaired an Australian Senate Committee inquiry last year investigating what more the Federal Government can do to strengthen its response to international child abductions by parents.

GARY HUMPHRIES: The Government does need to sit down with those countries which haven't signed, and there are some conspicuous examples even in our region, and say to them 'Let's not get into this position, we should never have children taken away like this, please sign the convention.'

CHRIS HAYES: That is something that the Australian Government is doing, encouraging all its neighbours in the Pacific region to be a party to the Hague Convention.

CATHERINE GRAUE: For now, Mr Giang is attempting to restart his life back in Sydney. He has now remarried and has a new daughter but remains committed to his fight to have Emily returned to Australia.

SAM GIANG: She is Australian. I want her to have a good education, I can take her to a football game, cricket game.

Emily is my life. She is everything to me.
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