Parental Abduction of Children in China for Custody
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.
He, Xin (13 May 2021). “Why Don’t Chinese Divorce Courts Better Protect Women”? U.S.
-ASIA Law Institute. Available online at https://usali.org/usali-perspectives-blog/why-dont-chinese-divorce-courts-better-protect-wom 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 https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/10/world/asia/china-child-custody-abductions.html.
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 https://www.sixthtone.com/news/1006322/new-law-means-chinas-parents-cant-abduct-kids-t 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 https://edition.cnn.com/2021/05/22/china/china-divorce-child-custody-abduction-intl-hnk-dst/ index.html.
O’Regan, Katarina (29 September 2020). “International Parental Child Abduction (IPCA): Foreign Policy Responses and Implications”. Congressional Research Service. Available online at https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/R/R46553.
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).