Imagine this: A child is abducted by their own parent to another country. The left-behind parent is enraged, scared and confused. That parent contacts the local authorities to help retrieve the child. INTERPOL alerts are raised, news agencies pick up the story and the general public cries out for justice under the Hague Convention: the return of the child to the left-behind parent.

Now imagine that the abducting parent is a victim of domestic violence. Fleeing was the only way to ensure safety and protection from further violence – for the parent, and for the child.

Sudha Shetty

Sudha Shetty

Under the Hague Convention, the two scenarios raised above would end with the same result: the return of the child to his or her country of habitual residence and possibly his or her left-behind parent. However, in the second scenario, the child is returned to an abuser and separated from a parent who acted to protect him or her. It can also mean that a victim of domestic violence faces criminal and civil legal consequences.

The Hague Domestic Violence Project, housed at the University of California Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy and created by Sudha Shetty and Jeffrey Edleson, is focused on advocating for these two scenarios to get different results. The goal of the project is to help mothers, attorneys, judges and advocates incorporate a child’s exposure to domestic violence as a defense to prevent the otherwise required return of the child to his or her home country, and to a potentially abusive parent.

To aid in this effort, Thomson Reuters, a strong proponent in advancing the Rule of Law and making a difference in the world, recently printed – pro bono – 300 6×9 bound copies of a practice guide for the Hague Domestic Violence Project entitled Representing Battered Respondents under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

The guide is aimed at attorneys, mothers, and domestic violence victim advocates who are confronted with a petition for return pursuant to the Hague Convention in cases involving women and children fleeing domestic violence. It will be distributed at conferences and continuing legal education programs where the Hague Domestic Violence Project is speaking on the Hague Convention and domestic violence or leading a workshop for practitioners.

This project was supported by a grant awarded by the Office on Violence Against Women, U.S. Department of Justice. It will soon be translated in Japanese.

How we got involved
Sharon Sayles-Belton, vice president of Government Affairs and Community Relations for Thomson Reuters, met Professor Shetty when she was a guest lecturer in Shetty’s class at the University of Minnesota eight years ago. Shetty had just moved to Minnesota from Seattle, WA, where she was a founding member and chair of Chaya, a grass-roots South Asian domestic violence prevention program. The two women continued to discuss their interest in addressing issues of domestic violence and soon a collaboration and pro bono partnership was formed. Employees in FindLaw, a Thomson Reuters business, designed a website, developed search engine optimization solutions, and provided many hours of free Westlaw research, for which Shetty is eternally grateful.


“We clearly understand that even with the Rule of Law, people and groups can be marginalized and we want to see how we can help,” she said. “And it’s amazing how much influence the U.S. can have on other countries’ laws. This project was enhanced 100-fold because of Thomson Reuters involvement.”

Sayles-Belton is equally as grateful.

“I am so happy to have met Sudha Shetty,” she said. “We are pleased to have been able to help further her efforts to ensure that the rights of women and children are protected. When the public and private sector come together to do good, everyone wins.”

More on the Hague Domestic Violence Project
The Hague Domestic Violence Project focuses on petitions filed in the United States for the return of a child located in the United States in which the respondent (the “taking” or “abducting” parent) alleges abuse by the petitioner (the left-behind parent). The Convention was designed to facilitate the prompt return of a child wrongfully removed from his or her country of habitual residence. Consequently, countries have developed resources geared toward the prompt return of children wrongfully removed from their country of habitual residence, and as a result there are generally more resources worldwide to assist left-behind parents than to assist taking parents. In some cases, however, the taking parent is fleeing domestic abuse, seeking safety in another country for her children and herself. Instead, they frequently find themselves faced with a court battle under the Hague Convention in which they are viewed as an “abductor,” by a court that may not understand the dynamics of domestic violence or how those dynamics are relevant to the safety of the parties’ children and the exceptions to return under the Convention. Nonetheless, resources for respondents remain limited.

More on Sudha Shetty
Sudha Shetty is the Assistant Dean for International Partnerships and Alliances at the Goldman School of Public at UC Berkeley. She is responsible for developing and implementing Global Leadership Programs in partnership with Foreign Governments. She has also served as the director of the International Fellowship Program and a graduate faculty at the University of Minnesota’s Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs where she managed Fulbright’s, Muskie, Bolashak and Government of India Fellowships; developed and implemented trainings for these emerging international leaders in the areas of strategic planning, policy development, leadership development, media and communications, created partnership with Hennepin County; and engaged the Humphrey Institute directors and department heads as mentors for the Fellows. She has been a consultant to the law firm of Dorsey & Whitney, LLP on diversity issues and in her former role as director of the Seattle University Law School’s Access to Justice Institute she developed a variety of legal access projects focused on battered women and also won many national awards for innovation in pro bono programming.

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