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GERMANY'S 'LEGAL' KIDNAPPINGS



Published: Wed, February 13, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



GERMANY'S 'LEGAL' KIDNAPPINGS

Providence Journal: One small, but startling, stumbling block to good relations between the United States and Germany is the German attitude toward the kidnapping of American children.

When Germans marry Americans, have children, and are then divorced, they will often seize their children and return with them to Germany. Once there, German courts deprive the American mother or father of custodial or visitation rights; after several years, when the children no longer recognize their U.S. parents, the courts decide that the children don't want to see parents who are now strangers, and would be traumatized by visits. Meanwhile, those same German courts demand child-support payments, and if parents refuse to pay, but still endeavor to catch a fleeting glimpse of their children, they can be arrested and imprisoned for nonpayment.

Nervous breakdown: Some of the cases defy belief. In one instance, a German woman married to an American man returned to Germany with her children, and proceeded to have a nervous breakdown. Not only did the German courts immediately place the children in German foster care, they have refused even to allow visitation rights for the American natural father. Nor are these outrages confined to U.S.-German marriages. The wife of the British ambassador to the United States has not seen her children in Germany from an earlier marriage since they were abducted in 1994, and a German court recently ruled that she cannot see them until next year -- by which time it will probably be argued that, after nine years, contact would be unwelcome.

When Chancellor Gerhard Schroder, visited Washington two years ago, he promised President Clinton that he would establish a commission to examine these cases. The commission, however, has accomplished nothing since then, and some cases have grown more outrageous. Berlin argues that these are judicial decisions, and the independence of the courts cannot be compromised. But that is nonsense. The German parliament could easily remedy a situation that is traumatic for parents in many countries, and that has raised serious questions about Germany's commitment to human rights.

Germany must be pressured to reform this barbarous practice. When Chancellor Schroder visited Washington the other week, President Bush once again raised the issue. Other governments have registered their disapproval as well. If the German government continues to ignore such entreaties, America should consider punitive action, including economic penalties and bringing these cases before the World Court.




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