Ever since her ex-husband abducted her children to his home country of Tunisia on November 11th, 2011, Édeanna Johnson-Chebbi has done everything within her power to bring her two children back home under her custody. At long last, the Tunisian Ministry of Justice has granted her the ability to take her fight to court overseas.
Nearly 20,000 Care2 activists have helped Johnson-Chebbi rally support and spread awareness about parental child abduction, but her family still needs help overcoming this hurdle. Tomorrow, July 10th, 2012, Johnson-Chebbi will finally have the chance to go to court and hear if Tunisia will return Eslam and Zainad to the United States with her as their legal guardian.
The culmination of a half year battle
The Tunisan Ministry of Justice’s false promises to expedite her case have kept Johnson-Chebbi waiting on tenterhooks for over six months.
“We expected a decision in May, when all of the legal documents and arguments were submitted,” says Johnson-Chebbi. “Nothing relevant to the case has been submitted since, yet we are still waiting for a judgment.”
She has worked to combat a situation the Tunisian embassy could have prevented. Chebbi managed to weasel birth certificates and passports out of the embassy so that the children could leave the United States with him, despite the embassy originally assuring Johnson-Chebbi that security measures should prevent such an act.
This drawn out experience has turned Johnson-Chebbi into a fierce advocate for preventing parental child abduction in addition to getting her own children back. The personal nature of these abductions often stem from domestic causes that can make speaking out difficult for everyone involved. Johnson Chebbi notes:
Faical had voluntarily relinquished his legal rights to the children; he didn’t fight it once during two years of court divorce processes. The courts reinforced our mutual agreement. The abduction was solely to hurt and punish me.
Is it out of America’s hands?
Interpol has set a Red Alert for Chebbi, and the state of Virginia and American FBI have warrants out for his arrest. But American legal action only plays a part in the battle for custody and return of Eslam and Zainad.
Given the circumstances, Johnson-Chebbi should not have to count herself fortunate for getting a court date — but the sad reality is that similar child abductions receive little to no attention. International laws tend to twist these cases into a complex series of legal snarls. In this case, we’re left wondering whether or not Tunisia will uphold American court orders regarding divorce and custody.
At this stage, increasing preventative measures is paramount to stopping embassies from allowing these children out of the country without a legal guardian’s presence and consent in the first place. If Eslam and Zainab return to America, this case could springboard new security measures. “Parental child abductions to Tunisia are increasing by the month. This judgment will affect many families suffering these heinous acts for years to come,” says Johnson-Chebbi, condemning the Tunisian consulate’s lax practices that contribute to international child abduction.
Can anything be done in America while Johnson-Chebbi waits for the court’s decision in Tunisia?
Johnson-Chebbi firmly believes so. “A phone call from Secretary Clinton or President Obama on our behalf could help ensure that the Interpol alerts are responded to, and my babies and I come home.”
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