The British media have been full of hype about a 12-year old girl who was allegedly abducted from her home in Scotland and taken to Pakistan by her father for what was claimed to be a forced marriage.
The case illustrates the way in which public opinion in international child custody cases can easily be manipulated and how there are two (or three) sides to all of these stories.
On Tuesday the Daily Mirror was reporting that ‘A missing girl of 12 was in Pakistan last night amid fears her father snatched her for an arranged marriage. Molly Campbell, also Misbah Rana, is thought to have been duped by elder sister Tahmina into joining her dad Sajad Rana on a flight to Lahore. Interpol has been alerted. Molly's gran Violet Robertson, 67, said: "It's an arranged marriage. Molly doesn't know the man - he's 25. She doesn't want to go to Pakistan. She wants to be with her mum."
On Wednesday, the Sun was calling the girl “The Kidnap Bride” while Mirror’s headline screamed “MOTHER: GIVE ME MY MOLLY” and the newspaper reported that “A mum last night begged her ex-husband to bring back their daughter amid fears she may be forced into marriage in Pakistan. Louise Campbell, 38, told of her anguish since Molly, 12, vanished. It is believed her father, Sajad Ahmed Rana, took her from school on Friday to marry a 25-year-old man in Pakistan.”
On Thursday a British MP got in on the act by claiming amidst a storm of publicity that he was flying out to Pakistan to rescue the abducted child.
Only after the girl herself appeared at a press conference in Pakistan did the truth begin to emerge. The girl reported that she had gone to Pakistan of her own free will and she appeared to be quite happy about the move.
In this particular case the girl was of sufficient age and maturity to be able to express herself articulately and effectively – and the press backed off.
But that is highly unusual. Most kids are too young, too frightened or too upset to be able to explain effectively what has happened to them. Then it is the parent with the loudest bullhorn who typically sways the media to his or her side.
On Friday we were interviewed about these problems on BBC Worldwide. As we explained, emotions run terribly high in these cases because parents feel that they are “all or nothing cases.” They fear, often justifiably, that their children will never be part of their lives if the case is lost.
The lesson of all this is that people must keep an open mind about these cases. Not only are there two sides to every story – the mother’s side and the father’s side – but there is also the child’s side. It is the child’s best interests that are often neglected as each parent battles for total victory against the other parent.