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American Children Kidnapped and Taken to Tunisia By Father

American Children Kidnapped and Taken to Tunisia By Father

It is a mother’s worst nightmare. Edeanna Johnson-Chebbi separated from her husband Faical Chebbi via a protective order in February 2010 after he threatened to kill her. Although Johnson-Chebbi had full legal and physical custody of their children, five-year old Eslam and two-year old Zainab, her ex-husband did have limited unsupervised visitation with them. On November 11, 2011, just weeks after their divorce was finalized, Chebbi picked up the children for their regular visit and didn’t return. Instead, Chebbi abducted the children and boarded a flight to Tunisia with them. Johnson-Chebbi is now fighting to get her children back and looking for answers about how this happened.

Calculated Kidnapping

On November 12, 2011, a day after Chebbi picked up his children for their regular visit, Johnson-Chebbi received a phone call from her ex-husband. He told her it was the worst phone call she’d ever have –he had the kids and they were in Tunisia, his birth country. Initially, it wasn’t clear how this could have happened because the children should not have been able to leave the country with Chebbi.

Johnson-Chebbi met with a staff member responsible for passport issuance at the Tunisian Embassy earlier this year and was assured that the children, who are both U.S. citizens, would not be able to get passports. She explains what happened at that meeting:

I was given personal assurance that copies of the notarized separation agreement, granting mutually consented to sole custody to me, along with copies of the protective order and a then valid court order not to remove the children from the U.S. would all go into Faical’s file and there would be no possible way for him to obtain passports for the children, as U.S. law indicated that he had no legal authority to them.

Nonetheless, Chebbi somehow obtained Tunisian passports for the children. Chebbi-Johnson has since been told by officials at the Tunisian Embassy that “under Tunisian law the father has the right to register his children as Tunisian citizens and obtain passports.”

Someone Should Have Stopped Them

Beyond the Tunisian Embassy, Chebbi-Johnson questions how a single man traveling with two minor children were able to get past the TSA and airline officials without being required to produce notarized documents indicating that he had permission to travel with the children. Johnson-Chebbi noted how alarming it is that her ex-husband was able to leave the country so easily with the children while she has to undergo a private pat down each time she goes through security due to her hijab: “The fabric on my head carries more weight for National Security than two children traveling with a suspicious male on differing passports out of the country. That’s a shame.”

Escalating Control and Abuse Tactics

Johnson-Chebbi left her husband when he threatened to kill her. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that she hasn’t escaped his abuse. When Johnson-Chebbi spoke to her ex-husband on the phone after the abduction, he said: “Now you know how it feels.” Johnson-Chebbi says: “This is completely about control and abuse of me, and nothing about the children. I pleaded with him to stop thinking about he and I and think about Eslam and Zainab. They are like possessions to him. The conversation left him trying to tell me how awful I am and how this is the same as he had it in America.”

Chebbi appears to be settling down with the children and shows no signs of making plans to bring them back. The children are already enrolled in school in Tunisia. However, that hasn’t stopped them from being homesick and it is painful for Johnson-Chebbi, who has been able to speak with the children on the phone and Skype, to see them suffering:

It’s heartbreaking to hear your child cry out for you and there’s nothing you can do to comfort him/her. And I realize I’ve never had to hear him cry for me like that because I’ve always been there for him. And then realizing that they are in a house full of people, but when they cry for me, no one bothers to console them…it’s maddening.

Watching my babies cry for me over a computer screen or listen by phone, knowing they want to be home and I can’t touch them, hug them, comfort them… it’s an awful thing.

Johnson-Chebbi has tried to use common sense to appeal to her ex-husband, but hasn’t received any response.

Looking for Answers and Help

Johnson-Chebbi has been working with officials at the Virginia State Police, the State Department, Missing and Exploited Kids, and the FBI. All of them have been helpful, however, none of them has any authority over Tunisia. Johnson-Chebbi is now asking elected and appointed officials to register their concern with the Tunisian Ambassador and with border officials for not paying better attention at the border. “It’s incredulous,” she explains, “that two American citizens have been kidnapped from this country by the aid of a foreign embassy on this soil, and not a single U.S. official, elected or appointed, finds that worthy of their attention or concern.”

Johnson-Chebbi has started a petition and is asking for your help:

Tell President and Mrs. Obama as well as Secretary Clinton to utilize all diplomatic and legal resources available to ensure that Eslam and Zainab Chebbi are returned to their mother in the U.S. Ask them to condemn the practices of the Tunisian consulate that contribute to international child abduction. Raise your voice and demand that our State Department act in full capacity to protect its citizens.

She wants elected officials to step in to protect their citizens and join her in saying “Never Again, Not on American Soil!” Of course Johnson-Chebbi also wants her children returned to her custody as quickly as possible: “I await that day that I can hold my babies close and kiss them and feel their cheeks against mine,” she says.

Help Johnson-Chebbi get the attention of elected officials by signing her petition to Bring Home Kidnapped American Siblings Eslam and Zainab Chebbi.

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Photo used with permission from Edeanna Johnson-Chebbi

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154 comments

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12:02PM PDT on Mar 17, 2012

I did leave a commet, but it was not posted. So here it is. No child should nor an adult trust a stranger these days in any country.

5:24PM PST on Mar 10, 2012

I cannot imagine the heartache this mother is going through. The "education" the children are receiving is imagined in my head.

**A warning to any American woman -- do not trust mideastern men, as their cultures are too different from ours, to imagine equality for women.** This type of thing has happened before. Though there was a breakdown in American security, to allow this to happen, and there should be channels to get the children back, ... yet it will be long and difficult. My heart is grieving for this poor woman and mother.

4:18PM PST on Jan 5, 2012

Last week, there was a good article on an equal epidemic of MOTHERS stealing children, running away to their own native countries, and denying access to the fathers. (See http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/nn20111229f1.html). Care2 readers seem to get all upset about fathers who feel children are theirs by birthright — but have no problem with mothers who have that same chauvinist attitude.

4:47PM PST on Jan 3, 2012

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4:31PM PST on Jan 3, 2012

Its a very sad case. Its true we dont know both sides BUT..... obviously the case had been through court and mum given residency etc. Now some ignorant ppl on here are taling of many things, eg, mixed marriage, Islam, she should have known etc. None of you can know untill you been in this situation ans as she probably loved him once then maybe she never thought he would do such an cruel thing to the children. Obviously she was a revert muslim ans sounds to be a practising one.
There are ignorant ppl on here who think that in Islam the children belong to the father?? WRONG! so wrong and this is even coming from muslims saying this ! The children will be with the mother until a certain age until they are old enough to choose, unless the mother remarries (this is as long as the father is a good practising muslim!).
I am a britsih muslim and my ex husband turned out to be opposite of a good muslim, we went through court for child contact and I almost went to prison fighting to stop him having unsupervised contact as I knew he would have done exactly what this father did, and beleive its only for control not for the love of the children. I know if I could have gone through shariah court, I would not have suffered fighting for 5 years in court. my children and I would have been given our rights much quicker and my x would have been shamed in court for his very bad behaviour.
If this lady goes to court in Tunisia she will be given her children if he was bad, My freind we

4:23PM PST on Jan 1, 2012

i know how this woman feels. My grandson was kidnapped when he was only five & taken to Egypt and I've never seen him since.

7:49PM PST on Dec 27, 2011

Women and children should never be considered as "Property" under any faith!!!

2:44PM PST on Dec 25, 2011

@ Huda.. judging by your comment i would say you are insane and slightly brainblinded by your cultural beliefs (Islam is far from being practised correctly anyhow in this day if it were things as such would never happen) and men certainly would not have 'rights' over children.
WAKE up woman.. you are a woman! claim that back.

10:37AM PST on Dec 25, 2011

Sounds like neither parent was an American or he wouldnt have ran all the way back where he came from. And I am willing to bet the govt wont help her get them back either.

11:28PM PST on Dec 24, 2011

This is a tough situation. It is a shame something can't be sorted out between the couple so the children don't have to suffer.

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