We’ve told you about the two year old little girl who has been taken into custody by the Social Services following an unsettled family court dispute in Guatemala. As a follow up, we spoke with CEO in the Ministry of Human Development, Judith Alpuche for some clarity into the case.
“Belize, as well as many countries, we are signatories to the Hague Convention on international child abduction and under that piece of international law, the Department of Human Services is the central authority meaning the focal point. So we received a request, paper work with all the documentation attached from the central authority in Guatemala saying that a Guatemalan child had been wrongfully removed from the country and brought into Belize by her mother. We started investigating the case. The case as laid out and the documentation that we had from the central authority in Guatemala showed that there was a custody matter before the Family Court in Guatemala. The matter had been heard by a lower court or another court; the ruling from that court was that the child would remain in the care, not the custody, but the care of her mother and the matter was sent to the Family Court in Guatemala for a full hearing. Now in Guatemala parents have joint custody whether or not they are married so then in this case the mother took the child out of the country without the father’s permission with a case as to the custody of the child being lodged already in Guatemalan Family Court hence the reason why then the Hague Convention was evoked to really recover the child. So that was the case that was being pursued.”
So, Belize was adhering to the Hague Convention on international child abduction for which we are a signatory … but things started escalating and threats were being issued. CEO Alpuche explained how it continued to play out over the weekend.
“Our social worker thought that she had the full cooperation of the family which is something that we always seek and that the mother was willing to do what is called voluntary return, in other words saying that she is willing to go back to Guatemala to have this matter sorted out, that is the best case scenario for us; but in the middle of all that, things started escalating. The report that I have is that other family members got involved and the matter started to escalate and the social worker and supervisor made the call to place the child in an emergency placement because you are having someone saying that this child is wrongfully removed, flight risk is very high, you have family members not cooperating and the situation escalating and so then the decision was made to take the child into care and then for us then to continue with the process of having the Belize courts to then decide what will happen, if the child will be sent back or whatever because that is a part of the process, that we have to take all the documentation to the courts to decide. So in order to secure the child she was taken into care.”
While the mother, Analiz Gutierrez told us that she was not fully briefed on what was happening and referred to the social worker as being unidentified, CEO Alpuche says that was certainly not the case and that this case is not a kidnapping.
“The process was explained to the mom and the reports that I have from the social worker and from her supervisor this was explained multiple times and to multiple family members. So it is very interesting to us then that the claim was made that the child was kidnapped and the name of the social worker, because I have seen the police report that the mum initially made that she has the wrong name when the social worker spelt out her name as acknowledged so that they could get it right because we have nothing to hide. It is a part of the process that we go through under these cases, we are empowered to place a child in emergency care under the Families and Children’s Act and because of the situation that they found on the ground and because of the reactions the social worker and her supervisor decided that we needed to evoke that section of the law and mum was told. Of course because of the situation we won’t divulge where we are going to place and etc. but this was by no means a kidnapping. We are empowered under the law to do that and the case went to court and the court has granted us interim custody of the child so to me then that indicates very clearly that we are within the parameters of the law.”
To complicate matters even further, CEO Alpuche says that there were several birth certificates presented in the matter, leaving them to investigate even further.
“It was a very sticky case because we didn’t know exactly what we were dealing with in terms of nationality, etc. we had two birth certificates. What we knew was that we had a Guatemalan child because we had the birth certificate of the child, on the child’s birth certificate it says that both parents are Guatemalan. In the paper work we also had two birth certificates for the mom, one that said that she was born in Guatemala and one that said she was born in Orange Walk on different dates but same name and everything. So we were not very clear on the parameters here and because there was this noncooperation the situation was escalating. Thus the precautionary measure that was taken to secure this baby until we could sort it out in the courts.”
A meeting was set up for the Director to meet with the child’s mother for this morning. From that meeting, CEO Alpuche says their duty is to safeguard the child.
“This is something that we really need to look at because of all that has happened. I know my director this morning, because we did get a message to the family over the weekend saying to please come in and talk to the Director. It’s not something that we wanted to do by text or phone or by anybody’s lawyer. It was something that we felt we needed to deal with formally because of how things had gotten out of hand and I know that you all are very aware that all of Belize probably of the frenzy on social media which is something that I really want to talk about after but to answer your question, the mom and lawyer have come in, they have spoken to the Director and we are looking at placement options with the family. This is something that is not the scenario that we want to deal with and it is shame that it has escalated like this because we want to ensure the best interest of the child but we also have a duty to ensure that as the central authority on the Hague that we fulfill our role. So the best case scenario for us would have been a voluntary return which is what we thought we had; go back to the place of jurisdiction to sort it out. We are always open because we are always trying to ensure that the best interest of the child is safe guarded and that is the place from which we stood. It’s easy for people to make judgments but that was what the social worker and supervisor found on the ground, they were dealing with the case on the ground.”
As was mentioned, the child will remain in Belize and the arrival of the father from Guatemala is expected in the company of his attorney in order to move the case forward.