(This essay originally appeared on the Justice For Sage blog and is reprinted here with permission.)
Although the egotistical and narcissistic nature of persons willing to commit the criminal act of child abduction is well-known and documented in the literature on child abduction this point can be best understood in the context of a concrete example.
To deny any child, much less ones own child, their fundamental and natural right to know and be cared for by both of their parents for petty personal reasons is morally despicable and a grievous act of parental alienation. In extreme cases, such as when children are abducted across international borders, that denial becomes virtually permanent. These children are not just denied the care and love of the other parent, but also, at a minimum, fully that of half of their family. As time passes these children often lose their native language and at least half of their ethnic and cultural identity, if not their very names. In the event that these children, as adults, reunite with the parents and families from whom they've been stolen, they may completely lack the language and cultural context to communicate with their lost family -- a problem which, of course, is predicated on the assumption that the victim parent has even survived the loss of their child in any meaningful way.
Many parents who have lost their children to child abduction describe the experience as a living death or being alone in hell. Like zombies they stumble through a world they no longer understand. What does it mean to be a mother or father to a missing child? Such parents also lose their identity. Is a parent without a child really a parent? If not, what are they and, by extension, what meaning does life have when their very life's purpose has been stolen? How can they go on living after their hearts have been ripped out? Rhetorical questions aside, the typical result for such parents is financial, emotional and psychological bankruptcy as their never-ending struggle to recover their lost children drags on year after year in a downward spiral that will eventually consume and destroy them. Child abduction is not just tantamount to child abuse, it is child abuse. It is not just a betrayal of the other parent but tantamount to an assassination attempt against their former partner who, even if they survive, will be a different person, forever bearing the painful scars of their child's abduction. While in many cases, hurting their former partners is the primary motivation for the abduction, it's also often the case that abductors are completely indifferent to the damage they cause the other parent. Either way, both situations demonstrate a desire to gratify themselves regardless of the consequences to others, including the children. Amazingly though, the almost universal justification (as given by the abductors themselves) for such abuse of children, is that it is committed precisely out of an altruistic desire to protect the children -- a hypocrisy directly analogous to a murderer claiming to be healer or a thief claiming to be a philanthropist.
I can think of few better examples of precisely these narcissistic and sadistic personalities than that of Emmanuel Lazaridis. Emmanuel aka Manny or Manolo is wanted in the United States and France for criminal charges arising out of the abduction of his daughter Varvara from her custodial mother in Michigan. After abducting the young girl from her mother's care in the United States amidst ongoing custody proceedings he was unsatisfied with, he took her to the Dominican Republic. Though not exactly known for their scruples and effective rule of law, even the Dominican Republic denied his request for a divorce and custody decision. A fugitive in the United States and France, Mr. Lazaridis then took his daughter to Greece where, though born and raised in the United States, he had a claim to dual Greek citizenship and was granted amnesty and custody of the kidnapped child in direct violation of the spirit and letter of international law, near universal family law norms and just plain common human decency and justice. Greece actually has an established history of exactly this type of behavior. Almost anyone with a claim to Greek citizenship can effectively kidnap children that they may have no legal rights to in the country and jurisdiction of the child's only home and spirit them to Greece with impunity because Greece, in spite of having signed the international Hague Convention on child abduction, will generally not return kidnapped children, nor extradite the kidnapper.
Although narcissism, hypocrisy and specious claims of child advocacy are par for the course with international child abductors, Mr. Lazardis represents, not only an excellent example of this archetype, but also an extremely public one. Discontent with merely abusing his daughter and destroying her mother he has waged a public campaign to denigrate victimized parents, encourage child abduction and attack organizations that assist abducted children. Alternatively using his own name along with various alter-egos like "the Secretariat" and "Micheal MacDonald", Manny has created a fake children's rights institution, the "National Centre for Genuinely Missing in Europe Children," with a staff, board and employee count of exactly one -- while claiming the majority of his supporters are anonymous. The organization's initials just happen to also be "NCMEC" in parody of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, the world's largest non-profit dedicated to the protection of children. As if misappropriating the NCMEC's initials were not enough he also registered the "charities" Internet domain as http://ncmec.eu in a clear case of cybersquatting and violation of the Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act of '99. As if these blatant violations were not enough a quick look at the actual site http://ncmec.eu/ shows that it has completely stolen the design and layout of the site http://ncmec.or/ violating a whole host of other trademark and copyright laws -- all of which, of course, he does "in the name of children."
Sadly, the antics do not end there. Mr. Lazaridis trolls around the Internet looking for stories about internationally abducted children. When he finds them he posts them along with the pictures of the children. He calls these abducted children examples of the epidemic problem of "Missing Child Fraud." The cruelty to victimized families in parading and pimping the pictures and stories of their abducted children interspersed with snarky and condescending comments under a banner of "missing child fraud" cannot be overestimated. Already disappointed by the lack of effective advocacy or assistance from the US government, they must then face a fraudulent child advocacy organization's publishing of the pictures of their children, calling them examples of "missing children fraud," trivializing their suffering and blaming the victim while telling them they need to move to the country the children have been abducted to or they are the bad parents. All of which, of course, he does in the name of the very children whose parents he denigrates. While it should come as little surprise that a child abductor would attack and traumatize the victims of other child abductions (all while claiming to be a protector of children,) harm to children on the part of child advocates has become the fashionable nonsense of modern family law and here, again, Mr. Lazaridis can be seen as an extreme example of precisely this problem.
Child advocates of all stripes, in particular "clinical" social workers, psychologists, guardian ad litems, divorce attorneys and judges routinely abrogate and denigrate parental rights in the name of children's "best interests." They do this with rhetorical flourishes that claim "parental rights" treat children like objects rather than persons and, as such, are barbaric. In spite of this disdain for parents couched in love for children, it goes without saying that children do not raise themselves and if parents are not empowered to do so than who is? While our ever growing industry of "child experts" would never come out and say they are fighting for "State's rights," preferring to claim that they are the true voice of the children (rather than ventriloquists putting words in their mouths), that is exactly what they are often doing. Even "allowing the child's own voice to be heard" is frequently an abdication of responsibility to make hard decisions by jurists who magnanimously force upon toddlers the responsibility to make drastic life decisions they are incapable of truly understanding. Intrinsic to the attack on the ability of parents to raise and speak for children is the presumption that the State can do a better job with the end result being our massive child care bureaucracy that doesn't really know or love the individual children and applies a one size fits all solution to their care. Unlike parents, these "child experts" are given absolute control to make drastically life changing decisions in the lives of children with no accountability whatsoever. By law, this bureaucracy of officials and "experts" on other people's children is granted complete immunity from criminal prosecution or civil-suits for any harm that arises as a direct consequence of their decisions. Not only are they not accountable for the results of their decisions they will probably never even find out about them. Once they have pontificated as to what exactly the child's best interest is they will probably never see or hear from that child again. Even if they were to learn that their decision was the wrong one they probably wouldn't lose any sleep over it. This is in sharp contrast to the children's own parents. Parents who know and love their children and are their biological precursors. Parents who actually are legally responsible for their decisions and, more importantly, will have to live with the burden of making the wrong choice for the rest of their lives -- a measure of accountability that no amount of legislation can ever achieve.
In the end it must be recognized that there is no truly objective way to determine a child's best interests. The best way to support children and seek their true best interests is to empower and educate their parents. Unfortunately there is now literally billions of dollars and whole industries that are dependent upon that never happening. In the name of protecting the children the State is increasingly taking upon itself a paternalistic (or maternalistic) role towards children and, by extension, every aspect of their parents lives. Hillary Clinton wrote a book positing that "it takes a village to raise a child," if modern day trends are in line with her ideals, it would seem that everyone in that village also has just as much right to make decisions for children as the parents and the State gets to adjudicate any disputes between equal parenting partners in this communal dystopia. If 100 child experts were put in a room and told to determine the best interests of a child they would deliver 100 different reports. Even if they all had psychic abilities and could actually see the children's future they would disagree on which future was the "best" for the child. This is analogous to what we see in many Hague Convention cases.
The drafters of the Hague Convention explicitly avoided making any reference to children's best interests. The idea being that the best interests of children was the very foundation upon which the Convention was drafted. Having made the interests of children intrinsic to the Convention itself adding additional stipulations of examining the child's best interests was considered, not only unnecessary, but counterproductive. In spite of this, courts routinely refuse to return children citing the child's best interest as paramount. The use of this subjective best interest standard facilitates foreign nations' manipulation of the treaty whose very purpose was protecting children. The best interest standard enables judges to make what amounts to purely discretionary decisions that take the form of gender, national, political and religious biases resulting in substantive non-compliance with the Hague Convention. Every judge hearing a child abduction case who considers it their right to determine the child's best interests almost invariably decides to keep the abducted child. This is a combination of the judges individual biases (eg gender, nationalistic, religious, etc.) and xenophobia. Judges, courts and "child experts" of all stripes fear foreign courts and child protection systems where their "expert opinions" carry no weight and have no jurisdiction. Other things being equal, and they never are, they will decide to trust their own expert judgment on what the child needs and protect their own ability to continue to make those decisions rather than accept that the courts and systems in the child's home country can do an equally effective, if not better, job without the harmful side effects of stripping away half of their identity and family. Adding injury to injury, the modern day collapse of the Hague Convention only encourages more child abductions.
Because the best interests of children are so hard to objectively ascertain, it's no surprise that child abductors like Mr. Lazaridis routinely, and often effectively, claim to be protecting children's best interests. Child rhetoric can be insidious. When someone claims to be protecting and advocating for children anyone arguing against them must overcome the stigma of, apparently, arguing against the best interests of children. This makes "children's rights" the banner under which almost all political agendas are promoted. The Simpsons has a long running gag where the minister's wife will cry out "Won't somebody please think of the children?" whenever the town faces a problem, however minor or catastrophic. Appeals to concern for children are sometimes characterized as thought-terminating cliches because, once they are invoked, most rational discourse shuts down. As parents and human beings we are naturally willing to put children first and so all one needs to do is call something a children's issue to turn it into a sacred cow that cannot be criticized lest one be viewed as anti-children (whether or not the issue actually has anything to do with children or their best interests.) Another extreme, and paradoxical, example of just this fallacy was the forced removal of many Native-American children from their parental homes to bring them to boarding schools on the other side of the country for a "civilized" education. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 established an involuntary system where children were abducted from their parents by the State, forbidden to speak their native language and stripped of all outward native characteristics. Some of these schools even incorporated an "outing system" where children were placed with white families in order to better learn American customs and values. While having the good intention of civilizing "Indian" children (that is, protecting their best interests,) now days this policy would be considered both a potential violation of the UN Genocide Convention, and a blatant effort to cleanse the Native American population of their language and cultural values through the indoctrination of their children.
Leaving aside the many pitfalls that exist when assumptions are made as to the feasibility of accurately determining the best interests of children with very little framework or guidance as to what that actually means, it remains a compelling ideal. It's a standard that was devised with the best of intentions and many of those who pursue it also do so with the best of intentions. Enough has been said on the inadequacy of good intentions that I will not belabor the point, but it should be made clear that, unlike well-meaning child advocates, child abductors, as a general rule, have their own best interests in mind and not that of the children. Without a doubt many child abductors have convinced themselves that they were acting in the interests of their children and consider it a mere coincidence that the best interests of their child happened to coincide with exactly what they wanted. The, marginally, more honest abductors will tell themselves that their happiness is really what's best for the child because a happy parent is a better parent. Either way, lying to oneself is the worst lie of all.
As before, Mr. Lazaridis serves as a particularly good example of these self-rationalizations and, as shall be demonstrated, routinely engages in extreme rhetorical contortions, convolutions, inconsistencies and, at times, completely incoherent arguments to justify that which, at its core, is no more than self-serving propaganda and promotion of child abuse. In short, to take a term that is also of Greek origin, Mr. Lazaridis' various claims of child advocacy is pure sophistry.
Mr. Lazaridis' platform on the best interests of the child can be summarized in five points:
Some would argue that it is logically fallacious to attack the source of an argument rather than the argument itself. After all, just because a pedophile is the source for a claim that the sky is blue doesn't make it any less true. Nonetheless, the principle that one should clearly acknowledge their own conflicts of interest, and that people with significant conflicts of interest should not be given the benefit of the doubt is a well-established one. It is not an ad-hominem attack to point out that a person who claims to speak for a child stands to benefit directly from the purchase of the line they are selling.
- Child abduction is not a crime and does not hurt children.
- Criminal remedies to child abduction are not in children's best interests.
- Publicly publishing information about child abductors or abducted children is not in children's best interests.
- The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is, in fact, the devil.
- The best way for parents victimized by the abduction of their child to reunite with that child is to relocate themselves to the child's new country.
While addressing the many fallacies of these positions is outside the scope of this article, I want to make it clear, why each and every one of these positions is of great personal value to Mr. Lazaridis... even though he claims they are purely founded on his altruistic love for all children.
The cornerstone of sophistry is intellectual dishonesty. Here are just a few of the logical inconsistencies and rhetorical acrobatics that Mr. Lazaridis' justifications are founded upon.
- Mr. Lazaridis is a child abductor.
- Mr. Lazaridis is wanted in two countries on felony charges for child abduction.
- Mr. Lazaridis does not like information about his crimes being publicized and, having succeeded in abducting his daughter, feels he is now entitled to his privacy despite his status as an international fugitive whose crimes are ongoing.
- The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is the primary source for the publication of his status as a criminal child abductor and international fugitive. Most other sites and agencies that publish information on him do so on the basis of the information published by the NCMEC.
- Having to return the child he abducted to her home country ultimately undermines all the effort he put into abducting her and means admitting the universe doesn't revolve around him.
I.) In regards to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and other organizations publishing his picture and that of his abducted daughter Mr. Lazaridis says:
"The distribution and circulation of the images and personal data of a child without the explicit authorisation of a custodial parent is strictly prohibited by law. Violators will be pursued and prosecuted."
In response to entreaties from families victimized by child abduction as to his justifications for publishing the pictures and personal data of their own children in his crusade against "missing child fraud" and requesting he remove them from his website he rationalizes:
"Frankly, there is no better way to bring the need for protection of these children and their data to the forefront of the public policy debate than by publicising their individual cases and the fact that their whereabouts are actually known...the child victim's interest in a cessation of fraudulent activities infringing on his or her personality trumps your parental interest in the cessation of publication of your child's case."
Even if you believe the ends justify the means or subscribe to postmodern claims that morality is relative and truth is subjective, if your ends are to protect children from the harm involved with publishing their pictures and personal information, does it make any sense whatsoever to do the very thing you are claiming to be fighting against?
II.) In regards to his fake child's charity, the so-called "European Centre for Genuinely Missing in Europe Children," one can't help but ask, if this is a European organization for children "genuinely missing" in Europe why does it focus exclusively on children abducted from the United States in what it calls "missing children fraud," without ever touching a case of a "genuinely missing" child in Europe or anywhere else, and why is the website hosted by a tiny in company in Panama who hosts other sites for selling fake brand name merchandise?
III.) As the only real person behind this organization why does Mr. Lazaridis take a falsely non-partisan tone in describing the abduction of his daughter? Why does he not acknowledge that he is, at the very least, the "alleged abductor?" rather than pretending to be some independent professional child's advocate dispassionately analyzing the abduction of a child that is not known to him personally? On his site Lazaridis writes in the third person:
"The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (United States) has issued a false alert concerning this child and her father, who are citizens of Greece and domiciled in Heraklion since February 14, 2002. The father was exonerated of charges of kidnapping and custodial interference with respect to this child by order no. 7105/2008 of the Penal Court of Heraklion. The non-custodial American mother has the right to supervised visitation in Heraklion with this child by order no. 1019/126/2008 of the First Instance Court of Heraklion. Dissemination of pictures and personal data concerning these individuals is prohibited and may be considered an invasion of their privacy."
Of course his daughter is the first case of "missing child fraud" that his children's organization has taken up amidst claims that "None of our official members profit from their advocacy on behalf of the Centre's mission, and all commit to the highest standards of unbiased and reasoned presentation."
Interestingly, if you watch the animated series South Park you may be familiar with another organization that espouses concern for children in a fashion remarkably similar to that of the "European Centre," namely, NAMBLA, the "North American Man/Boy Love Association." Like most viewers of the episode "Cartman Joins NAMBLA," I originally thought it was something the program had invented but truth is truly stranger than fiction. NAMBLA is a pedophile and pedarasty advocacy organization in the United States that works to abolish age of consent laws decriminalizing adult sexual contact with minors. Like the "European Centre" it also waxes poetic about children's best interests and the many benefits (to the child of course) in child abuse and keeps all of its members anonymous. For example, NAMBLA claims:
"Attractions between men and boys can be found in every society, crossing lines of race, age, temperament and occupation. They form a sure basis for mentoring and friendship traditions the world over. Man/boy love is exceptional only for the degree to which it is still misunderstood in cultures derived from Northwestern Europe. Most man/boy relationships are based on mutual respect and affection, and strongly desired by both partners. Such relationships do not harm anyone, and often entail many benefits for both man and boy. Boy-lovers and boys alike respond to the needs of those they love — needs for affection, understanding, and freedom"
Now I must hold myself to a higher standard than that which Manny holds himself to (I'm fully aware of the fact that I couldn't have set the bar much lower.) My interest in Mr. Lazardis extends above and beyond that of a mere disgusted and dispassionate analyst. Mr. Lazaridis has chosen my own abducted son as one of his cases of "missing children fraud," as well as the abducted children of many other parents in the forums of the Bring Sean Home Foundation. Parents whose pain and anguish I have personally borne witness to at length. Parents whose suffering and heartache are bad enough without ego-maniacs who simultaneously exacerbate it while preaching their love and paternalistic concern for our stolen children.
It it is no mere coincidence that promoters of child abuse like Manny and NAMBLA use such hypocritical rhetoric to rationalize their positions. No other type of argument has any hope of being persuasive. When is child abuse justifiable? When it's done for the good of the children, of course. No society supports child abuse. Such a society is entirely inviable. Child abuse is never acceptable... except when it's not only not child abuse but actually good for the kids. It is no coincidence that child abusers claim to be child advocates, it is, in fact, inevitable. The picture Manny uses for my son Sage is one that I took myself at a courthouse in Mexico during one of the seven trials I've been through in that country in my efforts to have my son returned (without a final decision to be found in the judicial quagmire of Mexico, but that's another long article in itself.) In the two and half years since my son was taken I've been able to see him just three times for under an hour each. Always in a court room under the supervision of my wife and a court clerk (though I actually requested the clerk.) I gave a copy of this picture to the real NCMEC (I can't believe I have to qualify the NCMEC with the word "real" btw) for them to use to help raise awareness of this gross injustice and, hopefully, find someone who can help us (or at least help drag along all the law enforcement agencies and politicians overflowing with their own empty platitudes about children.) Manny does not have my permission to use my son's image on his banner for personal gratification, nor does he even have the permission of my wife and son's non-custodial mother (who also objects to having our son's image posted on this perverts poor excuse for a children's advocacy organization.) Of course, Manny, like all preachers of "truth" at the pulpit of the Church of the Child, is not interested in what us mere parents think about our own children. Their love for the children is cause enough for them to take over the child's life and, if the parents want to see their children, the parents lives too. One need not scare the people of a nation with threats of attack from abroad to create a totalitarian state. One need only say it's for the children.
YouTube video with Varvara's mother:
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