Petitioner Mother, Ms. Wan, sought the return of her two minor children to Hong Kong. She accused their father, Mr. DeBolt, of wrongfully retaining the children after bringing them to Illinois for what was scheduled as a vacation to visit family. The District Court for the CD of IL, after reaffirming a prior ruling that Hong Kong and the United States are treaty partners under the Hague Abduction Convention, ordered the children returned. The parties stipulated that Ms. Wan met her prima facie case. Mr. DeBolt’s key arguments against return revolved around: the child’s objections, Article 13(b), and Article 20.
The children were represented by a Guardian Ad Litem. TD, the son, said he did not like Hong Kong because he did not like sharing space with his sister, had difficulty reading, writing and speaking Cantonese, the toys were expensive in Hong Kong, the baseball team is boring and it is more congested. AD, the daughter, missed her friends, mom, and stuffed toys. She expressed an interest in living in Canada because she liked seafood and wanted a Husky dog. Both children expressed concerns about China exerting control over Hong Kong, and the court concluded that both parents were responsible for sharing videos and information with the children. The GAL also met with the children’s teachers. The GAL prepared a report for the court finding that “both children ‘have not attained the age and sufficient maturity where it would be appropriate for the court to consider [their] opinions as a deciding factor in the case.'” The GAL also prepared a second and third report. In the third report, the GAL described that TD was engaging in self-harm and concerning behaviors. The GAL maintained the same opinion as to their age and maturity. The children also apparently told the GAL that their father told them that they would never go back to Hong Kong and that he cannot go back because it is too dangerous for him to return.
Mr. DeBolt argued that it would be a grave risk to return the children to Hong Kong because he perceived the climate of Hong Kong to have changed over the past few years (after the British transferred HK to China), with significant political protests and the fear of reprisal by the government for expressing political views. However, Mr. DeBolt’s concerns were generalized risks, which are insufficient to demonstrate a grave risk. Ms. Wan and the children are not politically active or outspoken. Mr. DeBolt also argued that the situation in Hong Kong warrants non-return of the children pursuant to Article 20 of the Convention. He argued that Hong Kong no longer guarantees individual rights, that the children will always “have to look over their shoulder,” and that “children are specific targets of NSL [the National Security Law passed by China for Hong Kong in June 2020],” that NSL will be taught in schools, and China’s crackdown on dissent presents a threat to the children. The court again concluded that the arguments were mere generalized fears and not particular risks.