Please return my son, pleads Port Elizabeth mom

Estelle Ellis

SOUTH Africa’s justice system has forsaken Elize Lin. The Port Elizabeth mother’s two- year battle to get her young son back from China after he was snatched by his father’s family has hit a dead-end, with the National Prosecuting Authority saying there is nothing it can do to help her bring five-year- old William home.

According to the law, Elize, of Kabega Park, cannot lay a criminal complaint against her husband, Chinese national Wenkang Lin, because married men cannot be charged with abducting their children. If she divorced him, she could ask for a court order that she be declared William’s primary caregiver. However, she can not divorce Lin because her attorneys cannot find him.

So Elize has run out of legal options. After a year of trying to work within the legal channels, the only option left to her now is to hire “private operatives” to fetch William back. But as a cashier at the Kabega Park Spar, she simply does not have the money.

Elize says Lin carefully planned William’s “abduction” while they were in China, visiting his family. The saga has left her desperately sad, spiritually broken and caught in a legal vacuum where nothing she does works – and William is still gone.

“It is a highly unfortunate situation,” child law expert Carina du Toit said. “It is an international incident. There is no legal way in South Africa to effect the return of the child. When people come to us for advice, we tell them to be more careful because once it has happened and a country is not a signatory to the Hague Convention, there is nothing they can do.”

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction makes provision for parents of abducted children to apply for a return order in their own countries, and all member countries have undertaken to comply with it. China, however, is not a signatory to the Hague Convention.

As a result, Elize cannot bring an application in terms of the convention for William’s return. If she wants to approach a court, she has to go to China, where her marriage is not recognised.

Elize’s latest effort was to try to have Lin arrested on charges of abduction as he still lives and works in South Africa at times.

Police spokesperson Captain Sandra Janse van Rensburg said yesterday, however, that an abduction docket against Lin had been opened in a misguided attempt by well- meaning police officials to assist Elize.

But senior police officers had refused to continue with the investigation as they had concluded, after consulting with the National Prosecuting Authority, that Lin could not be charged with abduction. “A legally married man cannot abduct his own child,” Janse van Rensburg said.

NPA spokesman Tshepo Ndwalaza said he was aligning himself with police comment. Elize married Lin eight years ago. They had met while working in adjoining shops in Hluhluwe, KwaZulu-Natal. He started sending her pies and cooldrinks. They fell in love and married a year later.

“At first he was a very nice young man,” Elize’s mother, Dot van Greuning, said.

William was born a few years into the marriage, on August 20 2005.

Shortly afterwards, things started going horribly wrong.

In 2008, Lin told Elize he wanted to move to China and take William with him. He said he wanted to buy a house and that his mother also wanted William to move there.

Elize said she would not agree to William being taken to China and intended to raise William herself. Lin insisted that he wanted a Chinese education for his child.

“He even wanted to dye the child’s hair black to get him a Chinese passport,” Elize said.

In May 2009 Elize, Dot, William and Lin travelled to China.

On their arrival at Shanghai Airport, Elize discovered Lin had only bought a one-way ticket for William. When she confronted him over this, he said he did not have enough money for a return ticket, but would buy one as soon as he could. A few weeks later, Dot had to return to South Africa.

She burst into tears as she explained the last time she saw her grandchild.

“He is the apple of his grandmother’s eye. He is a lovely, lovely child. The last time I saw him the two of us were sitting outside his father’s flat in China. William loves trains. He pushed his little train over to me and said: “Ouma, I want to go back to South Africa. I don’t want to stay in China.”

After Dot left, Lin took Elize to a Chinese notary’s office, where he made her sign a document which seemed to give his mother permission to care for the child.

Elize said Lin had threatened that if she refused to sign the document she would never see William again. The documents, and William’s passport, were given to Lin’s mother and locked in a cupboard.

On October 16 2009, William’s Chinese grandmother took him to see his little cousin. When Elize left for South Africa a week later, they had still not returned and she could not say goodbye to her son.

 Yesterday, she burst into tears as she recalled her last moments in China.

“I did not want to leave. As I got off the train, I turned around to beg Lin’s brother to take me back to William. But he was gone.”

With an expired visa and nowhere else to go, Elize returned home alone.

When Lin returned to the family’s Durban home, he told her she no longer had a say in William’s life.

Whenever she phoned, her son cried and said he wanted to come back to his mommy.

In May last year, Lin ordered Elize out of the family home. She moved in with her parents in Port Elizabeth.

By then William’s visa to China had expired, but Elize presumes that Lin managed to get it extended somehow, as no action to deport the little boy was taken.

Since moving back to Port Elizabeth, Elize and her parents have been in a daily fight with government departments, the police and the Port Elizabeth High Court to find a way to get William back.

Nothing has worked.

Meanwhile, Dot meticulously keeps papers detailing their efforts.

“One day when he can read, I will show it to him and tell him we fought for him. We didn’t just throw him away,” she said.

“He is his grandfather’s only grandson and when Oupa lights a fire for a braai he gets very excited.”

Elize has made up William’s room in his grandparents’ house with all the latest Ben Ten items, including a duvet set.

“Everything is ready for him when he comes back. There in the corner is his Ben Ten scooter. It is his Christmas present. On his cushion, we keep his Father Christmas chocolates,” Dot said. “We cannot stop believing he will come back.”

William turns six next month – his second birthday away from his mother.

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