Lethabo &
Blessing’s Story

  • Lethabo is 14 years old and Blessing is 5. They live with their mum in Cape Town, South Africa.
  • Their dad lives in Geneva with his girlfriend and their baby son.
  • Their dad visits Lethabo and Blessing twice a year.
Lethabo and Blessing's Story Finding Home Liverpool
  • During his latest visit, Lethabo’s dad asked him to find his passport because he wanted to take him on a ‘surprise trip’.
  • Lethabo’s dad told him not to tell his mum in case she made a fuss and spoiled their fun.
  • Lethabo is worried and feels that something is not right. He does not want to go on the trip, and doesn’t like keeping secrets from his mum. He is also worried about leaving his sister behind. 

A short summary of what the law says:

  • If Lethabo’s dad wants to take hiim on a trip he needs to get permission from Lethabo’s mum
  • If Lethabo’s dad takes him on a trip to another country without his mum’s permission this is parental child abduction and is against the law
  • Lethabo would have to be immediately returned to his mum in Cape Town and his dad may be charged with a criminal offence.


This is a complicated area of law so for a more detailed summary of what the law says, click on each of the questions below.

If you are closely involved with both parents (so that both parents have what we call ‘a right of custody’ although in England & Wales this is now referred to as child arrangements) the law says that one parent should not move you to another country without the permission of your other parent, or a judge.

When children are taken to another country without the other parent agreeing or without the court’s permission, the law calls this parental abduction because there has been what we call a wrongful removal. The law says that it is also parental abductionif the other parent agrees to the child going to another country, but the child is not returned at the end of that trip, like in Anna’s case. We call this a wrongful retention.

Yes, this sometimes happens, and it can make everything feel much worse for the child who is taken, as well as the one(s) who are left behind. They both miss each other, and wonder why they were taken, or why they were not chosen. It is never your fault though, and you must not blame yourself.

Lethabo is right to feel concerned and should talk to Precious to let her know what has happened. He may be reluctant because he loves his father and has a good time when he is with him, and he may feel like he is being disloyal. But the right thing for Lethabo to do is to talk to his mother. It is best to be safe, and not wait for something to happen because it is more difficult to sort things out after you have been taken out of the country, and everyone, including the children, may get much more upset and hurt if things are left until then.

There are lots of things which Precious may be able to do. She may contact the police and explain that she is worried about Lethabo being abducted. They may be able to warn the ports and airports in the country so that they look out for Lethabo and his father, and stop them from leaving the country if Femi tries to take Lethabo away. Precious may talk to a lawyer to see what the court can do to stop Lethabo being taken, including not allowing Lethabo to see Femi without supervision. Precious may wish to consider working with a mediator if one is available so that she can work out these problems in a friendly way (which we call reaching an ‘amicable resolution’) with Femi. 

It is possible that a mediator in the new country might be able to help the family sort this out and reach an amicable resolution. In a case like Lethabo’s, where the child is taken to a new country by a parent they don’t live with, it is almost certain that he will be returned very quickly to where he usually lives. Often, the parent who has abducted them will agree that the child returns home without having to go through the court process. We call this a voluntary return.

However, if your parents still cannot agree, a judge will have to decide. The 1980 Hague Convention (which we call ‘the Convention’) aims for children to return to the country where you lived before (we call this the ‘State of habitual residence’), so the courts there can decide where you should live. The courts in the country where you usually live can get information about your family life more easily than courts in another country and so can better decide what is best for you when your parents cannot agree.

Although the Convention encourages a return, there are some important situations that can arise in which the judge might decide that you do not have to return to the country where you lived before (we call these the ‘exceptions to return‘ which you can find out more about here).

For a detailed description of what ‘exceptions to return’ means please click here

Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 (which is called the UNCRC) sets out that children have the right to have their views heard on matters affecting them. In some countries, the courts want to hear the views of children in every case under the Convention. In other countries, the courts will only hear from children who do not want to be returned to the country they lived in before. But remember that you have the right to ask to be heard.

Each country has different rules about how and when children can give their views to the judge. In some countries, children as young as age six are heard by the court. While in other countries only older children are asked for their views. It may seem unfair that different rules are used, but this is because the Convention works across more than 100 countries and every country does things slightly differently. You should ask the adults involved in your case to see what the rules are in your case.

Each country has different practices on how to hear from children. The three methods most used are:

  • Judges speaking directly with the child
  • Other professionals asked by the court to speak to the child and then to tell the court what the child said
  • Children having their own representative to let the court know what they want to happen (sometimes called a lawyer, an advocate or a guardian).

In some countries, the child’s views are heard using one, two or all three of these methods.

The person you meet will be friendly and has usually spoken with many children in a similar situation. She or he will help explain why they have been asked to meet you. They will answer any questions you have and will ask you for your views. Once the meeting is over, they will provide a report for the court which sets out what your views are on returning to the country where you lived before.

The Children’s Rights Committee is a group of experts from around the world that advises countries on how to make sure children can enjoy their rights under the UNCRC. The Committee says that children should not feel they have to make a choice. Just tell the person who asks to hear your views if you prefer not to choose where to live and would rather the adults decide.

You can share your views on what you would like to happen, but do not have to go to court. More and more cases have been carried out online because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In some countries you may be invited to the courtroom or to go to an online meeting, but if you do not want to do either of these, tell the person who asks your views.

There is a difference between the judge ‘hearing’ your views, and your views being ‘acted on.’ The judge is the person who will decide whether you stay in the new country or return to the country where you lived before.

To help the judge decide, the judge will want to know that the views are your own and have not been influenced by other people, and that you fully understand how your choice could affect your future.

Even if the judge accepts that you do not want to return and that you fully understand the outcome of your decision, the judge must balance your views against other factors including what is believed to be in your best interests.

Usually, when you tell the court your views, these are included in a report that is shared with all the people involved in the case, but you should check this with the person you meet when you share your views.