Protection of minors needed

A casual search on the worldwide web confirms that most developed countries require certain basic travel documents for travel with minors.

In each of these countries (the United States, Canada, all Central and South American countries; indeed in the global majority!), any child younger than 18 departing from those countries with only one parent, a guardian, grandparents or other adults, must have written and notarised permission from both birth parents or legal guardians to be able to pass through their home country’s´ immigration controls and most certainly do require such written and notarised permission, to enter many countries.

These conditions have now also been extended even on cruise ship’s shore excursions.

In the Caymanian context, with a mostly trustworthy population, one might possibly ask out loud, ‘Why should this be necessary?’ Good question.

My answer, as is the answer accepted worldwide and on which foundation these rules and regulations are in force is simply to halt international child abduction, runaways, and the transport of children involved in child-custody disputes.

It is worthy of note, that the Hague Convention on children’s rights has been receiving enhanced awareness in recent times, due to an increase in child abductions and child- custody disputes, and as of July 2001, the Hague treaty is in force between the United States and 50 other countries. Indeed, in Mexico (sadly a country well known for child abductions and child flight); Mexican law is very strict and requires that if only one parent or non-custodial adult(s) is accompanying a minor younger than 18 into Mexico, he/she must bear a notarized ‘Permission to Travel Letter’ from the child’s other parent(s) or guardian(s) granting permission to enter Mexico with the child, including the dates of travel, the accompanying adult’s name, contact information, and a notarized signature. In Brazil, the requirement is even stiffer. They require a notarized original copy of the ‘Permission to Travel Letter’ before even accepting a visa application for minors.

Most airlines also now follow this protocol. The US Airways website for example confirms that they enforce this during the check -in-process with the posted rule: ‘If adult passengers do not have the proper documents, as defined by the US Department of State guidelines, boarding is denied in order to comply with international regulations and the foreign immigration process’.

Sadly, there are too many horror stories of marriages gone wrong where one spouse feels somehow obligated to use the children of the marriage as pure pawns.

One does not have to look too far, to discover these types of sad cases. In 2006, a mother kidnapped a three-year-old girl and illegally took her via plane to Mexico. The father has yet to see his daughter since!

The father exercised his legal rights to the extent of filing a lawsuit in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, against Continental Airlines for negligence, breach of contract and interference with custodian rights. The child’s mother, who remains at large in Mexico, has even been charged in the US with a felony kidnapping.

But, has that ensured that the mother returns? No, it has not.

But, has the father been able to enjoy a normal and meaningful relationship with his legitimate child? No, he cannot!

I write this letter, because sadly the laws in the Cayman Islands are very lax in regards to the transit of minors in the care of a single parent. I am of the firm belief that the laws need immediate strengthening so as to be in full compliance with the Hague Convention on the Rights of Children. And, it would be an easy task to implement and ensure its strict compliance by authorities at our own Owen Roberts International Airport.

Many questions arise then. Are we going to wait yet again until we have an international incident in our faces before acting? Are we going to wait until an incident happens involving child abduction and illegal transport of minor children out of these Islands by one uncaring parent, whose sole purpose is to use the children of the marriage as pawns before we act?

Sadly, child custody disputes do occur and it is only just and proper that the due protection is given to minors not to allow one single parent the possibility of surreptitiously taking minor children, younger than 18, out of the home countries jurisdiction, unless such movement is known by, agreed to, and a signed and notarised original letter is able to be produced at the Airline counters here in Grand Cayman (and as is required in most other countries!) signed by the other parent not accompanying the minor or the family.

I am therefore appealing, as a matter of national importance and as a matter of being pro-active in our actions towards the compliance with the Hague Convention for the protection of minors, that we institute with immediate effect, rules and regulations, which would at a minimum, require any parent, legal guardian or other traveling adult that is departing the Cayman Islands with a minor child (i.e. any child under the age of 18 years) to have in their possession a signed, original and notarised letter of permission before being allowed to depart our Island or be processed through Immigration.

Any breach would result in the airline involved being liable for negligence and child endangerment.

George R. Ebanks

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