1 Feb 2019

Young girl ordered back to father under the Hague Convention despite saying he hit her

9:04 am on 1 February 2019

The mother of a six-year-old girl ordered back to Australia under the Hague Convention is questioning why her daughter's views were disregarded by a judge.

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Photo: 123RF

The girl told a lawyer she was scared of her dad because he smacked her and yelled at her most days.

Applications under the international child abduction agreement can be denied when it is determined a child would be thrust into an intolerable situation.

That's exactly what a New Zealand mother believes her daughter would have been put into after a Family Court case last year.

Melanie, not her real name, said she fled Australia and her former partner after being sexually and physically assaulted.

Later he applied for the daughter's return, Melanie said her daughter was given a lawyer for child, and was independently interviewed prior to the case.

The girl's comments, detailed in court files, made clear she did not feel safe with her father.

"When asked if there was anything her father needed to change, she said he used to smack her bottom every day and yelled at her every morning," the court document reads.

"She changed the everyday to lots of days.

"She said that he did this for no reason. I asked if she felt safe with him and she said no. I then asked why. Initially she said she didn't know, and then she said, 'Because of the smacking and yelling'."

Melanie said her daughter's comments were paired with evidence of injuries sustained at the hands of her father.

But at the end of the case her daughter was ordered back to Australia, and initially it would have been without the support of her mother.

"My passport had already expired, so they weren't going to allow time for me to renew my passport even though I could renew hers at the same time, given it was about to expire as well," Melanie said.

"They said, 'No, it has to be in a timely manner, her passport's about to expire, she needs to go back with or without you'."

Melanie secured an emergency passport and left for Australia four days after her case concluded, and before she had the chance to consider an appeal.

She is still confused about how her daughter's testimony could be disregarded, and that she could be ordered back to a father she was afraid of.

Law Society Family Law section chairperson Kirsty Swadling said dealing with children in court cases can be difficult.

Judges needed to weigh up their maturity and age in taking their testimony into account.

"The question is whether there is a child that objects to being returned, and whether that child has obtained an age and degree of maturity at which it's appropriate to take those views into account.

"So, there's a couple of things there. First of all, working out what the views of the child are, and secondly, what that child's age and degree of maturity is.

"Obviously, the older the child, the more relevant their views are going to be."

Ms Swadling said increased support for New Zealanders living in Australia would likely reduce the number of Hague Convention cases taken up here.

New Zealand mothers agree.

Melanie and her daughter are now living in hiding in Queensland, supported by a $300-a-week New Zealand support benefit.

They had been homeless for more than two months but moved into a house this week. It leaves them just $50 each week for other living expenses.

Because of that, Melanie's daughter hasn't been able to start school.

"She probably won't be starting for another one or two weeks just because I can't afford her stationary and uniform for a brand new school, given I get $50 remaining at the end of my work and income payment each week."

Justice Minister Andrew Little said he would be taking up the treatment of New Zealanders in Australia with government officials when the two nations meet this year.

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