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Esther and Sophia*

Esther says that until experiencing it, she “would have never believed that Australian Judges would send a breastfed First Nations baby to an abuser”. How wrong she was. This is #HerHagueStory

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Esther is a First Nations Australian mother who had booked into an Australian hospital to give birth. But, she was forced to give birth on foreign soil because of medical reasons, which were a direct result of domestic violence and abuse. To minimise the abuse she and her daughter, Sophia endured, she tried to pretend that everything was okay. It was a survival mechanism; one that she has since discovered the courts do not respect. 

There were times when she researched places to escape to, but because of strict Covid lockdowns, all the hotels and Airbnb's were closed. She did not have the transportation to get to them in any case, and she knew he would find her. Flights to Australia had completely stopped. 

Reporting abuse is even harder in a foreign country. You have to sincerely believe that if you report the abuse of yourself and your child, the person you tell will be able to find the resources to hide and protect you and your baby from your abuser. In the middle of a pandemic, that felt impossible. 

Esther’s partner had told her that he knew where he could bury her and get away with it. He repeatedly asked how he would sell her home, and get her money from Australia to Europe once she was dead. When Esther and her baby were in an accident, he said that it was a shame it hadn’t done a better job, as it would have fixed his Australian problem. 

She eventually disclosed a little of the abuse to a doctor in Europe. She told the doctor that she did not feel safe, but did not disclose the extent of the abuse. The doctor described her living situation as "living on eggshells and one of those shells is going to turn into a bomb”. The same doctor had supported her to go home to Australia where her ongoing work, her fully furnished home, and family waited for her. The doctor had even signed the photos for her baby's emergency passport. 

No one warned Esther about the Hague Convention. She would have never traveled outside Australia while pregnant, had there been government warnings about The Hague Convention.  However, if the doctor in Europe who she disclosed abuse to, had told Esther about The Hague Convention, Esther believes that she would have flown home regardless.  She would never have believed that a law involving children would be as bad as it is. Esther says that until experiencing it, she “would have never believed that Australian Judges would knowingly send a breastfed First Nations baby to an abuser”. How wrong she was. 

At the first mention, The Judge was told that Sophia had some concerning medical issues. Esther saw the Judge roll her eyes. The lack of concern from the Judge was abhorrent. Before the hearing, the court denied Esther access to court documents. This prevented her from viewing the father’s misleading evidence prior to the commencement of the proceedings. Even though the mother disclosed this to the Judge during the trial, the Judge wrote in her judgment that the mother was well prepared. 

During proceedings, her baby was called a ‘half Aboriginal’ by the Australian FACS barrister representing the father - paid for by the Australian government. This same FACS barrister later went on to say that the 'sooner the mother and child were out of Australia, the happier she would be'. Even with affidavits and evidence showing years of community involvement of the mother and her family, the appeals Judge openly pondered if being First Nations was something that had just been 'dreamed up'. 

When discussing domestic violence and abuse, the father initially denied some of the accusations. However, when presented with evidence of the abuse by the mother’s barrister, the father retracted his lie and said he was frustrated and so threw a heavy object*. The Judge seemed dismissive and said, 'but the heavy object* didn’t hit the mother'. He then denied other violence, which included him threatening to have the mother raped while pregnant. It was dismissed. Even though he was shown to have lied moments before,  his testimony was believed instead of the mother’s. 

The judge showed no concern regarding the fear the pregnant mother felt with a heavy object flying across the room towards her while she was pregnant, nor was there concern about the fear that her unborn baby would have felt. The abuse of her baby at the hands of the father and his family, was given no weight.  Esther says that it was clear the Judges do not understand domestic violence, nor the grave risk that domestic violence and abuse places babies and children in. 

When the mother and her family were trying to log on to another court mention during a COVID lockdown, the FACS solicitor sabotaged the proceedings by providing Esther with multiple incorrect numbers before finally providing her with the correct number. A number which the FACS solicitor had correctly dialled for herself at the commencement of the mention. This resulted in the mother and her family logging in quite late.  

A double standard was displayed when Esther’s solicitor requested a date change because the mothers chosen barrister was not available on the proposed day. Her request was denied. However, during an earlier proceeding when the FACS barrister had asked for a date change because she had to attend orchestral rehearsals, this was accepted. 

During the appeal, the children's barrister, who was appointed by the court to represent baby Sophia, agreed that it would be intolerable to send the Sophia away, but went on to argue that the First Nations infant should still be sent away 'lest it reward the mother'. Rewarded for what? For escaping domestic violence and bringing her daughter safely home to the land of her ancestors.

 

Sophia is still choosing to breastfeed, yet has been ordered from her primary attachment figure and First Nations mother, which the judges acknowledged will be damaging and intolerable for her. She has been ordered away from her Country, Community, and Culture - which is against statutory law. 

#HerHagueStory encourages you to ask: Why are international agreements overriding our laws as a sovereign nation? The right for First Nations people to celebrate culture in community, and on Country is enshrined in statutory law and yet a First Nations child will be stripped of their place, community, and culture. 

Esther was on the first possible flight home when Sophia was only months old. She carried her baby all the way home in her arms. If she had been able to get home one month earlier, the Hague would not have applied. But, medical reasons, Covid lockdowns, and flight bans had prevented her from boarding earlier flights. All these things the Judges chose to ignore. 

When Sophia’s grandmother saw them, she was shocked by her daughters appearance. She was so thin and stooped over from the accident that had hurt her back. The same accident that the abuser showed no concern over except to say it was a shame it hadn’t done a better job, as it would have fixed his Australian problem. 

This is who the Australian Judges have ordered an infant baby First Nations girl to - back to a life of isolation and abuse. To a man the Australian judges openly referred to as coercively controlling.  

To a life that her loving mother risked all to save her from. 

Sophia has been living safely in Australia for over 20 months. She speaks with enthusiasm and joy. She points out bird sounds, flowers, and trees to her family. She has a full and beautiful life. Sophia has been attending a playgroup with “all her friends” since returning. She also attends dance and music lessons, and regularly plays with her cousins and friends. She is so close with her aunties that she calls them mum too. She also has the honour of calling an emerging elder her friend. He meets with her and shows her how to collect food from the bushes, sharing with her the knowledge of their ancestors. 

Australian Judges have ordered Sophia away from this life and into the sole custody of her abuser. 

#Shout with #HerHagueStory. Call Mark Dreyfus and say, #NotThisChild

*To protect the privacy of individuals, names have been changed.

Esther and Sophia* #HerHagueStory
*To protect the privacy of individuals, names have been changed.