Lithuania not doing enough to protect women in child custody cases – NGOs

  • 2023-08-08
  • BNS/TBT Staff

VILNIUS – Non-governmental organizations accuse Lithuania of not doing enough to protect women in international child custody cases. 

"Lithuania's legal system does not protect its own children," MP Morgana Daniele told a news conference on Tuesday.

"Our legal system tends to avoid child custody cases in the event of divorce between citizens of different countries and to give them to other countries," she said. "The latter protect the interests of their own citizens, rather than those of Lithuania."

The news conference followed last week's appeal by law-enforcement bodies to help find Inga Sala, a Kaunas resident who has been hiding with her daughter since she left home.

A court has ruled that the girl must live with her father in Italy, just like her brother.

According to Daniele, although the Hague Convention treats the removal of a child from the country without the father's knowledge as kidnapping, the vast majority of women do so to flee domestic violence, and courts in some countries consider the violence aspect as a reason not to apply the Convention.

"Today, around three quarters of cases under the Hague Convention are against women who flee violence and return to their countries in the hope of getting protection and help," the MP said. "I want to emphasize that Inga also returned to Lithuania under such circumstances." 

"In Inga's case, the consequence of our state's indifference is the courts' decision to send to Italy a girl who was born in Lithuania, has Lithuanian citizenship, is breastfed, has lived with her mother all her life, speaks only Lithuanian, does not know her father and does not understand his language," she said. 

Lithuania's courts "avoid dealing specifically with cases of violence as a reason for not enforcing the Hague Convention's provision to return the child to the father", because such cases are complex and require painstaking effort and firmness, according to Daniele.

Dalia Puidokiene, director of the Klaipeda Centre for Social and Psychological Assistance, says that women are being held hostage by legal procedures and that the authorities help to prosecute Lithuanian citizens instead of defending their rights.

"Inga is hiding not because she is a criminal, but because she cannot trust the authorities and justice even in her country," Puidokiene told the news conference.  

"I am shocked when the children's rights authorities approve the separation of a child from her mother and handing her over to her abusive father," she added. 

Roberta Zukaite of Nelieciama (Untouchable), an NGO, said that some women find themselves in an unenviable situation because they lose their children when they follow the orders of the authorities.

She cited a case where a woman is allowed to see her son only twice a year after handing him over to the authorities as ordered by the court. 

The police said last week that they were searching for Inga Sala, born in 1985, and her daughter Agata Sala, born in 2020.

Tautvile Merkeviciute of the Kaunas District Court then confirmed to BNS that on April 18, 2023, the court had authorized the bailiff to use coercion to execute the Vilnius District Court's procedural decision in the civil case and to take the girl away from her mother.