Global Human Rights Defence

Parental Abduction of Children in China for Custody
Written by Eva Bredenbeek

General situation

 According to a report made by a law firm in Beijing, about 80000 children were kidnapped in 2019 alone by one of their parents for the sake of parental custody before divorce processes.1 The figures are based on the official reports so the actual number of abductions might even be higher. Due to China’s laws, it is preferred that children remain in the same household for their psychological health and joint custody is rarely given for separated couples. As a result, one of the partners forcefully or deceitfully tries to get a child, thus leaving the other parent struggling to fight for visitations through the court procedure.

Case studies of two mothers: Dai Xiaolei and Wang Jianna

 The hardship of getting the child back is well-known to Dai Xiaolei. After she, her then-husband, and their child stayed together in Canada, the woman was completely unaware of what was awaiting her after their return back home in China. Once she stepped into their Beijing apartment, her in-laws were waiting to take her 1.5 years old boy. Her husband acted as if he had just forgotten to mention it. Trying to prevent the child being taken away from her, she locked their son in the bedroom and withstood hours of physical abuse by her now ex-husband. However, the man finally took the boy and after reporting to the local police and the Canadian consulate (since she is also a citizen of Canada), her requests were denied on the basis that it was a private matter. To this date, she is appealing to the court for visitation rights.

Dai Xiaolei, the victim of parental child abduction with a photo of her kidnapped son. Reuters/Thomas Peter.

Another case of child abduction happened to Wang Jianna, a woman from Tianjin. During her usual walk with her then 6-months old daughter in January 2017, a couple of men and women ran to her, put the woman to the ground and forcefully took her baby. The whole incident was recorded on residencial cameras but no case has been opened, as one of the men is the father of the child. That was the last time Jianna saw her daughter. Once again, the police decided not to get involved in such a ‘family’ matter. Moreover, after the divorce procedure the judge ruled for the child to stay with her father in a familiar environment.

A screenshot of the CCTV footage. Wang’s daughter in the hands of a woman moments after being kidnapped from her mother. The New York Times.

Possible reasons for parental child abduction

Cases of parental abduction exist in other countries as well. However, the number of kidnapped children in China is tremendous. For example, there were about 700 children abducted by their parents in the United States between 2018 and 2019.2 Considering the population size of the two countries, it is much lower than in China.

The former one-child policy could be a result of such a high number of parental abduction instances in China. The policy was introduced in 1980 to contain the population growth by allowing only one child per family, and was withdrawn in 2015. For couples who have only one child, going through a divorce and fighting for custody is therefore dramatic and some decide to “steal” the child from one another to have better chances of staying with the kid.

Violated human rights

Ming Yue, a family law specialist at Guantao Law Firm in Shanghai, stated that women are more likely to suffer in parental abduction cases because whoever has physical custody also has legal custody. Consequently, children are taken away from women because men are considered to have more superior economic capabilities, allowing men to have a higher chance for custody. This is violating the rights of women to be with their own children. Moreover, in some cases, abducting children in custody is a part of a broader pattern of domestic violence. Official statistics show that about one in three families that go through divorce is affected by domestic violence.3

Actions taken by the Chinese Government to handle/combat the situation

Under Chinese law, parents are rarely given joint legal custody; instead, judges give one parent “direct custody”.4 Therefore, the Chinese Government has taken a step to address the issue by criminalising snatchings for custody purposes.5 The provision in a remarkable amendment to China’s child protection law provides that parents of minors “cannot compete for custody by snatching or concealing the child.”6 The provision was among several articles added to the revised law on the Protection of Minors, scheduled to take effect on June 1, 2021. However, since the law was enforced, there have been doubts about whether these new regulations would make a difference due to the short period.


Although the new legislation came into force in June, there is no guarantee that it would help to solve the issue. Therefore, another approach is needed, which will also be in favour of the children. In this case, granting joint custody to both parents will be be in accordance with the best interests of the child standard as children. Joint custody will lead children to have fewer behavioural and emotional problems, and prevent distress caused to parents.


News articles:

He, Xin (13 May 2021). “Why Don’t Chinese Divorce Courts Better Protect Women”? U.S.

-ASIA  Law  Institute. Available    online  at en

Qin, Amy and Amy Chang Chien (10 October 2021). “Where Parents Have Abducted Their Own Children in a Bid for Custody”. The New York Times. Available online at

Thomas, Natalie (29 December 2016). “In China, Calls for End to Aggressive child custody tactics”. Reuters. Available online at

Xuandi, Wang ( 20 October 2020). “New Law Means China’s Parents Can’t Abduct Kids to Win Custody”. Sixth Tone. Available online at o-win-custody

Yeung, Jessie (22 May 2021). “In China, 80,000 Children were ‘Snatched’ in 2019 by Parents Fighting for Custody, Report Says”. CNN. Available online at index.html.

Official documents:

O’Regan, Katarina (29 September 2020). “International Parental Child Abduction (IPCA): Foreign Policy Responses and Implications”. Congressional Research Service. Available online at


1 Yeung (22 May 2021).

2 O’Regan, Katarina (29 September 2020).

3 He (13 May 2021).

4 Thomas (29 December 2016).

5 Qin & Chien (10 October 2021).

6 Xuandi (20 October 2020).

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Coordinator - Tibet Team

Mandakini graduated with honours from the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. Her team analyses the human rights violations faced by Tibetans through a legal lens.

Kenza Mena
Team Coordinator -China

Kenza Mena has expertise in international criminal law since she is currently pursuing a last-year Master’s degree in International Criminal Justice at Paris II Panthéon-Assas and obtained with honors cum laude an LLM in International and Transnational Criminal Law from the University of Amsterdam. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in French and Anglo-American law. 

Since September 2021, she has been the coordinator of Team China at GHRD, a country where violations of human rights, even international crimes, are frequently perpetrated by representatives of the State. Within Team China, awareness is also raised on discrimination that Chinese women and minorities in the country and, more generally, Chinese people around the world are facing.

Kenza believes that the primary key step to tackle atrocities perpetrated around the world is advocacy and promotion of human rights.

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She is an active advocate for the human rights of all peoples in her community and is passionate about creating a better world for future generations. Aimilina is the coordinator for the GHRD team of Pakistan, in which human rights violations of minority communities in Pakistan are investigated and legally evaluated based on international human rights legal standards.
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João has an extensive research engagement with subjects related to International Justice in general, and more specifically with the study of the jurisprudence of Human Rights Courts regarding the rise of populist and anti-terrorist measures taken by national governments. He is also interested in the different impacts that new technologies may provoke on the maintenance of Human Rights online, and how enforcing the due diligence rules among private technology companies might secure these rights against gross Human Rights violations.

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Team Head (Promotions)

She is currently heading the Promotions Team and University Chapter of Global Human Rights Defence. Her background is the one of European and International Law, which I am studying in The Hague. She has previously gained experience at Women´s Rights organizations in Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey over the past years.
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Team Coordinator and Researcher

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With outstanding leadership abilities, in 2021, Pedro Ivo was the Secretary-General of the 22nd edition of the biggest UN Model in Latin America: the MINIONU. Fluent in Portuguese, English, and Spanish, Pedro Ivo is the Team Coordinator and Head Researcher of the Team Africa at Global Human Rights Defence. Hence, his focus is to empower his team from many parts of the world about the Human Rights Situation in the African continent, meanwhile having a humanized approach.

Alessandro Cosmo
GHRD Youth Ambassador
(European Union)

Alessandro Cosmo obtained his B.A. with Honors from Leiden University College where he studied International Law with a minor in Social and Business Entrepreneurship. He is currently pursuing an LL.M. in Public International Law at Utrecht University with a specialization in Conflict and Security. 
As GHRD’s E.U. Youth Ambassador, Alessandro’s two main focuses are to broaden the Defence’s reach within E.U. institutions and political parties, as well as mediate relations between human rights organizations abroad seeking European funding. 
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Team Coordinator and Researcher- Japan, Sri Lanka & Tibet

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Veronica has an extensive research background with subjects related to public international law. She worked as an assistant researcher for more than two years for the Externado University of Colombia. Here she undertook in-depth research on constitutional, business, and human rights law issues. She was involved with consultancy services with the Colombian Army regarding transitional justice. 

Wiktoria Walczyk
Coordinator & Head Researcher (Nepal & Indonesia)

Wiktoria Walczyk has joined GHRD in June 2020 as a legal intern. She is currently coordinator and head researcher of Team Nepal and Indonesia. She has an extensive legal knowledge concerning international human rights and is passionate about children’s and minorities’ rights. Wiktoria has obtained her LL.B. in International & European Law and she specialised in Public International Law & Human Rights at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. Moreover, she is pursuing her LL.M. in International & European Law and focusing on Modern Human Rights Law specialisation at the University of Wroclaw in Poland. In order to gain an essential legal experience, Wiktoria has also joined Credit Suisse’s 2021 General Counsel Graduate First Program where she is conducting her legal training and discovering the banking world. She would like to make a significant impact when it comes to the protection of fundamental human rights around the world, especially with regard to child labour. 

Fairuz Sewbaks
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Fairuz is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD Africa. Her primary focus is to establish and coordinate long-term research projects regarding the differentiating human rights dealings of vulnerable and marginalized groups in continental Africa, as well as conducting individual research projects.

Priya Lachmansingh
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Priya Lachmansingh is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in International & European
Law at the Hague University of Applied Science.
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Team Coordinator & Head Coordinator: North America

Jasmann is a political science student at Leiden University who joined GHRD in May 2021 as an intern in team Pakistan. Now, she is the team coordinator for North America and is responsible for coordinating the documentation of human rights violations in USA, Canada, and America.