MPs reject treaties binding absentee parents to foreign courts jurisdiction

Parliament Buildings. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

Lawmakers have rejected treaties that would have allowed Kenyans to seek child maintenance from foreign absentee parents in local courts.

By rejecting three Hague Conventions relating to children yesterday, Members of Parliament shut the doors on the implementation of child support orders issued by Kenyan courts abroad.

This means that Kenyan parents abandoned by foreign lovers or spouses, with whom they sired children, will still have to seek child support orders in foreign courts, in the event the said partners had returned to their country of origin.

MPs rejected a report by the National Assembly Social Protection Committee that would ratify the Hague Conventions on: Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction; Jurisdiction, Applicable Law, Recognition, Enforcement and Co-operation in respect of Parental Responsibility and Measures for the Protection of Children and International Recovery of Children Support and other Family Maintenance. 

The rejection of the treaties by Parliament also means that absentee Kenyan parents, who sired children abroad are not bound by child maintenance orders issued by foreign courts in the event that they reside in Kenya.

The Thika Town Alice Ng'ang'a-led committee futilely argued out the benefits of ratifying the treaties, which include easing the process of accessing parental responsibilities from deadbeat foreigners.

Many Kenyan women who have been abandoned by foreign absentee parents have been left stranded in seeking support from the said partners, given the legal bottlenecks.

"The conventions are in compliance with the Constitution and the United Nations conventions on human rights," Ng'ang'a said as she moved the motion, arguing that the conventions were in the national interest as they would promote the rights of children.

"When the Chinese came to construct the Thika Superhighway, we were left with many Chinese children and they went back to their country. In Naro Moru, there are many British children and the soldiers went back to their country... all that these treaties are saying is that we should take good care of our children," she added.

But the majority of MPs opposed it, equating it with trading off our sovereignty to other jurisdictions without public participation.

"We are holding the rest of 50 million Kenyans to be enjoined in these three treaties without their participation... we cannot ratify what is not in conformity with our laws. Let us not ratify something that we do not understand," Endebess MP Robert Pukose said, arguing that Kenyans risked being affected by judgements reached without their involvement.

For years, Kenya has been under pressure to adopt the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which safeguards against abduction by returning children to nations of their habitual residences. Kenya's reluctance to adopt the treaty has seen travel advisories issued to foreign citizens.

Seme MP James Nyikal supported the provision, arguing that it would help curb child abduction. 

"Children can be returned to their habitual residences can be returned in an orderly manner and those involved, whether parents or government officers, don't have to go through the complex different jurisdictions," said Dr Nyikal.

But Dadaab MP Farah Maalim opposed it, saying it would help in the alleged imposition of foreign values.

"If a parent runs away with their children because they don't want to have a sex change and comes back to Kenya, the school can go to court in the US or Holland and say that they were abducted forcefully and we are forced to surrender them," Maalim said.