Family Court loophole puts mom and child at risk, no criminal charges for father who abducted child: Razwan Ali Anjum, abducted his 3 yr old daughter in Nov. 2009 and hid her in Pakistan with family members, refusing to reveal her whereabouts even after being jailed. The child is returned 3 years later, at age 6, the search deterred when detectives were sent on a wildgoose chase by Razwan, who lied and refused to provide answers as to the child’s location. Razwan wass charged with 12 months in jail for contempt–and given a reduced sentence, he also avoided criminal charges for the abduction because family court only handles “civil” matters. Now released from jail Razwan is trying to get Legal Aid so he can sue for custody.
United Kingdom: On November 6 2009, Gemma Wilkinson (of Ashton-under-Lyne) sent her 3 yr old daughter Atiya on a birthday visit with her father, Razwan Ali Anjum. What was supposed to be a happy day was the beginning of a nightmare. Razwan sent a text to Gemma that she “would never see her daughter again” then smuggled Atiya into Pakistan.
On November 20, Razwan returned to the UK–without Atiya– claiming he did not know what had happened to the child. Razwan lied and refused to provide information when questioned by the authorities. Razwan also lied when he told authorities that he sold his daughter to an Iranian man. Razwan was jailed for contempt for refusing to reveal Atiya’s whereabouts. Razwan was held at Forest Bank Prison in Salford for 3 years because he refused to reveal where Atiya was hidden; prosecutors remarked it is remarkable that Razwan was jailed for long and refused to cooperate.
For three long, painful years Gemma searched for her daughter–now subject of an international manhunt. Atiya, grew up without the love of her mother, and was used as a pawn in her father’s vicious retaliation against her mother. A judge working on this case would later remark that Razwan has “demonstrated the most cynical and cruel behavior he had dealt with in 30 years”.
With the help of the Pakistani government, and tips from local citizens, Atiya was finally located Sialkot, in the Punjab province on Dec 24, 2012; she was staying with paternal relatives. Atiya was flown back to the UK where she was joyfully reunited with her mother, Gemma.
Gemma was overwhelmed to be reunited with Atiya at the Manchester Airport, showering her with hugs and kisses, and bringing presents from every year of her birthday that was missed. Atiya is reported to be adjusting well in Gemma’s care, is happy and has begun to refer to Gemma as “Mummy”.
Here is where it gets complicated.. Razwan was jailed for contempt in October 2012, and sentenced to 12 months for refusing to disclose where Atiya was hidden (previous charges for contempt added up to a total of 2 years and 12 months). When Atiya was found in December, Razwan petitioned the court for an early release because she had been returned home safely. Keep in mind Razwan had exposed his daughter to great danger and kidnapped her from the custody of her mother, attempting to sever a sacred bond of mother and child. Razwan created an international wild goose chase, where detectives faced difficult situations that risked their safety, and expended a great deal of money and manpower–looking in the wrong direction. Razwan even lied that he sold Atiya to an Iranian man–you can imagine the absolute horror, and panic Gemma experienced on hearing that news, and the possibility her daughter was being abused in the worst way. Gemma appeared before the media a number of times, tearfully begging for the return of her daughter–to which Razwan showed no sympathy, no emotion. The amount of suffering Razwan imposed is beyond words–he deserved no leniency, and should have been subjected to harsh criminal penalty.
Justice Holman, sitting in the family division at the Royal Courts of Justice commented “the human cruelty..to the mother can scarcely be overstated”. Yet on hearing Razwan’s petition for an early release, Justice Holman granted an early release of two months because he did not want to give the appearance that Razwan was being “coerced” into providing information.
Razwan got an even better deal due to a legal loophole.. Under the 1984 Child Abduction Act, Razwan could have faced up to 7 years in jail for kidnapping (and may have been given time served for his contempt charges). HOWEVER Proceedings demanding the return of a child are considered a “civil matter” and handled in family court. SO Razwan was not only released from jail two months early but to date, never criminally charged with abduction.
Razwan is reported to be totally without remorse for his actions and refers to Gemma as “only or merely her birth mother”. Gemma lives in fear that Azwan will kidnap Atiya again. The Foreign Office reports that the number of parental abduction cases they have dealt with has increased by 88% in less than a decade.
Once released, Razwan has begun to fight for visitation with Atiya–and incredibly this case is proceeding in family court like a normal petition. Razwan appeared at Liverpool’s Civil and Family Court in Liverpool to petition for custody to return Atiya to Pakistan and apply for legal aid. Psychological evaluations of Atiya were conducted in July 2013. At the time this article was written, the results of the case are still pending.
Gemma lives at a secret address with Atiya, and has said she will oppose custody. They are working to rebuild their lives, and create many happy memories for all the years they have lost.
For More on this Story:
“Abducted Atiya Anjum-Wilkinson returns to UK from Pakistan”. The Guardian, Helen Pidd, Shiv Malik, and Jason Burke South Asia correspondent. 12/28/2012: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/dec/28/abducted-atiya-wilkinson-return-pakistan
“Atiya Anjum-Wilkinson: Father in Court Bid for Access”. BBC News Manchester, 3/15/2013: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-manchester-21802671
“Father of abducted girl must remain in jail, judge rules”. The Guardian, 1/14/2013: http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2013/jan/14/father-abducted-atiya-remain-jail
“I’m Afriad Atiya’s dad will snatch her again, says Ashton mum as jail sentence cut” . Manchester Evening News, 1/15/2013: http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/im-terrified-atiyas-dad-will-snatch-1210285
Six-year-old Antiya Anjum-Wilkinson back home in the UK: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jdE8_zajGwo