"Die Welt" Article, of 1 August, 2000
Visitation Rights are Human Rights
Fathers in Germany are still being denied access to their children -
By Christine Brinck
Young Elian, who for months occupied the time of top politicians, was lucky enough to be stranded in the USA. That's because the furious battle over reunification with his father was fairly quickly resolved in favor of his biological producer. If Elian's name was Hans, and if he were born of a German mother, who kept or abducted him to Germany, the father would more likely "grow a long nose", than ever see his child again.
The law is not the problem. The new laws governing children are exemplary. The law not only delineates the rights of both parents, after a separation and divorce, but also emphasizes the rights of the child to a permanent relationship with both parents. Where, then, is the problem? Unfortunately, this good legal tool is often undermined by the parent with whom the child lives, the family court judges and youth services. The robbing of children, sanctioned by government agencies, not only occurs in cases of foreign born mothers and fathers, as is exemplified in the latest arguments involving Americans and French, who have been fighting in vain for visitation rights in Germany. Primarily, the victims are excluded local parents, particularly fathers.
As yet, society has not accepted that "a father is as important as a mother." This quote is taken from a book, written by the former French Minister, Elisabeth Badinter, who wrote "XY the Identity of Man" (1992). In Germany, not much has changed since then. Mothers and officials alike still find it difficult to comprehend that motherhood and fatherhood carry equally important responsibilities. That motherhood is good and holy can be accepted by Christian conservatives and radical feminists alike. But the father? Having him is a good thing, but his absence is not life-threatening.
Every day, 100 German children are dragged off, mostly by their mothers. For children born of married parents, this is absolutely against shared parenting laws, but it happens anyway. Three years after the disappearance of a mother and child, 70% of children no longer have any contact with their fathers, even when the fathers are neither dead nor daily drunks. The fathers' major sin? They no longer fit into the mothers' plan for her life. And the little ones are caught in, trapped in this new life plan. Even when the fathers beg or argue for access, it is denied, if the mothers do not agree to it.
It is possible this might now end. The European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg recently recognized the father's visitation rights as human rights and awarded a German father, represented by children's rights attorney Peter Koeppel, damages--to be paid by the justice system.
What happened? The father, from Hamburg, separated from his partner in 1988. For two years, visits with his little son went splendidly until 1991, when the mother filed a petition to deny his visitation. The father stomped his way through the various levels of court from lowest to highest. In vain. He always received the same flippant response. Why? One cannot force visitation against the mother's will because the child will be caught in the middle of a terrible conflict.
Let this reasoning remain on your pallet for a while. The father's visits with the child are per se damaging to the child. This is crystal clear, so no input from a psychologist is requested. No evaluation of the child took place. The five-year-old was simply required to state for the record, "I do not want to see daddy." That's it. The child has spoken.
The fact that the child's will was in fact the mother's will, could easily have been established by a competent psychologist familiar with research in the field. The judges, who seldom have experience in psychological issues, knew better - until now. Unfortunately, nine years too late, the Human Rights Commission made a different decision. Not only did Strasbourg inform their German colleagues of their violation of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights - the right to a fair trial - but also of an infraction against Article 8, which addresses the right to family life.
The father's family life was destroyed and the child was emotionally crippled, through a combination of manipulation by the mother and denial of access to his father. The father, who was denied his human rights by not being able to see his son, will still not see his son, despite the Strasbourg decision. He has to again bring charges in the German court.
The endless time involved in negotiating visitation rules and regulations, is in itself, a violation of law. Particularly with young children, time is the most determinant factor.In the case of Elian, six months seemed to be unbearably long. American father, Joseph Cooke, has been fighting with the German courts for nine years to see his children, who were abducted to Germany. The fact that he has custody in his home country does not impress the authorities here because the German justice system, in conjunction with the youth authorities, believe fatherhood falls into the superfluous category.
In the interim, even Bill Clinton and Gerhard Schroeder have taken this case under advisement. But the current motto seems to be, let's not rush into this. Now, though, Strasbourg has spoken: Visitation rights are human rights.
Translation by Ingrid I. Horton
Child Victimization Specialist
28 August, 2000
PAS Research Foundation
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