The Ethics Of… Kidnapping your own Kids

Is there any limit to what a parent will or should do for their children? Ethics are all well and good, but when the chips are down and it’s your kids’ lives in the balance, then are there any among us who would honestly be willing to put them second?

That was basically the choice facing Australian mother Sally Faulkner, whose ex-husband Ali Elamine had taken her two children to Lebanon and was refusing to bring them back. Were this sort of thing to happen in Australia then the situation would be pretty simple – the family court would have determined custody and if either party had broken that agreement, they would have faced criminal charges. Hands dusted, job done, justice served. But because Mr Elamine had taken off to another country, the complication of jurisdictions, cultural norms and simple practical factors like expenses made such a simple resolution virtually impossible.

Ms Faulkner was facing the stark reality that she may never get her kids back home.

Others may have waited and hoped the Lebanese courts would bring justice, or perhaps tried for a diplomatic solution, but neither was guaranteed to bring justice and every moment they took in slow deliberation was another Ms Faulkner was denied access to her kids. So she took a third option – she hired a group to steal her children back again.

Faulkner contacted the Channel 9’s 60 Minutes current affairs TV program, who then contracted Child Abduction Recovery International (CARI) for at least $69,000. Their goal was to recover Faulkner’s children, with the 60 Minutes crew along to document the entire process. And the plan worked – briefly.

On 6 April 2016, CARI agents ambushed the children as they walked with their paternal grandmother, shoving her aside and grabbing the kids in seconds. They were then reunited with their mother.

Hours later they were back with their father, and Ms Faulkner, the CARI agents and the 60 Minutes crew were all in jail. Turns out that the Lebanese authorities do not approve of kidnapping. Who’d have thought it?

But who am I to judge Sally Faulkner? Who am I to tell a desperate parent that she cannot, should not, do everything in her power to rescue her children from the bastard that stole them from her? Faced with the full power of a parent’s devotion, what are my dusty ideas and theories? Her attempt may have failed, leaving her in a worse position than ever to recover her kids, but no one can say that she didn’t do absolutely everything in her power to help them.


I’m not going to mince words this week so brace yourself for a fairly blunt series of statements:

Ali Elamine is a kidnapping piece of shit.

Sally Faulkner is a kidnapping piece of shit.

The entire 60 Minutes crew, including anyone who authorised, enabled or even knew and failed to protest what they were doing, are all kidnapping pieces of shit.

And Child Abduction Recovery International? They are absolutely kidnapping pieces of shit.

I use this gif so much less often than I could…

That may seem pretty harsh considering I was pouring my heart out in sympathy for Faulkner 105 words ago, but here’s the thing; your desire as a parent to be with your children may be very compelling and very sympathetic, but it has sweet bugger all to do with what’s best for your children.

Let’s be clear here that no one has ever, at any point accused Ali Elamine of abusing or even mistreating his children. Sure he’s still a kidnapping piece of shit, and his actions are totally unjustifiable – but now that they have been abducted, there’s nothing to suggest he is doing anything other than a great job looking after them. In other words, as distressing as leaving them in his care may be for Ms Faulkner, it’s not actually doing them any harm.

You know what is doing them harm? Being kidnapped. Again.

And this was no gentle disappearance from the country, perhaps creating some anxiety and confusion, no sir! This was a full blown, Mexican cartel-style, strangers-in-a-van-assaulting-Grandma-and-forcing-us-into-their-car-type abduction. The only possible way it could have been more traumatising for the kids is if the agents had shot Granny in the back of the head, and packed them off to a sex dungeon – something they may very well have been expecting given what we tell our kids about strangers in vans.

Oh sure, there was mummy at the end of the ride to sooth their post traumatic street disorder and tell them everything was going to be alright. And you know what, perhaps with a few dozen years of therapy that would have all worked out in the end. Too bad the kids were almost immediately abducted AGAIN, this time by Lebanese authorities returning them to their father.

So to take a quick tally of what this operation achieved: significant trauma for two children, significantly worse odds they will ever see their mother again, half a dozen people in jail, and a diplomatic incident to boot. Congratulations everyone! You all just made the world a slightly worse place.

But hold up, how is any of this the fault of Faulkner and her team? It was Elamine that set all this in motion by abducting the kids to Labanon in the first place. Ok maybe Faulkner reacted badly, but that’s kind of understandable for a mother who just had her kid taken from her. And as for 60 Minutes and CARI, they’re just professionals helping her cause – what’s so bad about that?

And yes, Elamine is most definitely 100% to blame for setting this all in motion. All the prick had to do to save all this harm was simply not steal his kids. Pretty damn simple. But here’s the funny thing about ethical responsibility versus legal responsibility – unlike in the legal system it is entirely possible for more than one person to be 100% responsible for a single problem. If 10 people stand around and watch a child drown in a pool that they could all individually have very easily saved, then every single one of those people is 100% responsible for the death of that child, because any one of them could have solved the problem on their own. The fact that everyone else did nothing is irrelevant – the only thing that matters is that they had the capacity to intervene and they did not.

So while Elamine is most definitely 100% responsible for this sorry saga, that in no way excuses anyone else from how they chose to respond to his crime. Faulkner saw these facts and made the decision that she would not wait for slow but safe method of the court, instead opting for a method that had a questionable chance of success and was absolutely guaranteed to traumatise the children she apparently cares so much about. CARI may just be professionals doing a job but if you think that’s some sort of justification for participating in unethical behaviour, then I strongly suggest you read up about the Milgram Experiment. And the 60 Minutes crew may only have been the middle-men in this drama, but since they could easily have stopped the entire farce at any time each of them too is 100% responsible for the harm this idiocy caused.

Strange as it may seem, it may be that the 60 Minutes cast and crew have the most unjustifiable position here. Elamine and Faulkner may well have acted selfishly, but that can be explained through the emotional tempest of a nasty divorce. CARI did the dirty work and should have brought professional wisdom to the situation, but this is their field and doubtless it requires a certain passion for the work that may have clouded their judgement. But 60 Minutes? What excuse does this commercial television program have for facilitating such a ham-fisted scheme, blithely ignoring the harm it would cause and the massive risk of failure? These people are meant to be journalists committed to objectivity, not vigilantes jumping at any opportunity to get a big scoop. At best it was negligent, at worst exploitation of a bad situation for their own gain, and in either case they directly traumatised two children in the process.

The 60 Minutes crew has since managed to get Elamine to drop charges against them and Faulkner, but have been criticised for not trying to get their CARI agents out as well, instead leaving them to rot in Lebanese custody. It has been argued that Channel 9 have an ethical responsibility to help free the men they employed for the job. I would disagree. While freeing themselves and abandoning their employees does indeed show a sad degree of selfishness, securing the freedom of the men who abducted two children and assaulted an innocent woman would be FAR less ethical than leaving them to face justice. If only 60 Minutes could have shared their fate.

‘Hooray! We’re escaping legal accountability for kidnapping children!’

So to return to the question of who am I to judge Sally Faulkner? Someone who’s aware of more than their own desires, that’s who. Someone who’s willing and able to consider the risks and likely outcomes of a decision, and decide that one individual’s desperation does not condone putting two children through trauma – especially if it’s unlikely to actually solve that desperation in the process.

Ethics may not have the appeal of raw emotion, especially in the midst of a situation as traumatic as having your children denied to you. But if it’s a good solution you want, one that benefits you and your children as much as possible and prevents them from getting hurt in the process? Best get those emotions under control, lest they hurt the very things you’re trying to protect.

5 thoughts on “The Ethics Of… Kidnapping your own Kids

  1. Excellently argued as always! So let me pose the obvious question to this though. What if there was evidence that the father was physically abusing the children? Also do you consider the kidnapping of children and taking them away from their mother as abuse? I guess I would at least psychologically. It’s a blatant attempt to indoctrinate them into a culture and a family, making them much less likely to ever want to know their mother. And if they some day did and were prevent until they were adults, this could have serious psychological ramifications to find out they were kidnapped and deprived from knowing their biological mother. I am not suggesting at all that Ms. Faulkner’s solution was still the right one, only that I think a case could be made that a reason for action could be made on more than just an emotional level from the mother.

    • An excellent question! With any situation like this I prefer a utilitarian approach, essentially weighing up the costs and benefits of each alternative available. Ms. Faulkner’s solution was unjustifiable largely because there were few benefits to be had – the kids will still be missing a parent and have some trauma into the bargain. If on the other hand, their father WAS abusing them then the benefits of the kidnapping would have been significantly greater, and the costs of using slower solutions like the courts significantly higher too – all in all you could make a far stronger case for the kidnapping.

      As to whether the fathers initial kidnapping was abuse I absolutely agree it was, with potentially serious impacts in both the short and long-term. His actions are absolutely unjustifiable, case closed. But since those actions were now completed, so too was the abuse – more of a one-time thing rather than ongoing trauma. The question Faulkner needed to ask was what option would lead to the best outcome; the slow but low-impact legal route, or the high-trauma, high-risk abduction route? I think she made the wrong choice for these circumstances. Of course if those circumstances were different, then maybe the high-risk option could be justified.

      • I agree! I also like to think that even if the legal process is slow, the children then can’t help but realize that there is this entity, their mother who is trying to be in their life, and that as adults they’d be much more appreciative of a mother who fought the hard fight, rather than a mother who got desperate and did something really risky, possibly traumatizing them and compromising her own safety by going to jail. I imagine these actions would also weaken her now should she start the legal process as she has lost a bit of the “rational” reputation which I think helps in a court of law, especially in a custody battle.

  2. Nice article! Interestingly enough, based on the title, I thought it was going to go into a completely different direction: kidnapping mature minors so they can be placed in boot camp programs against their will. The Guardian recently ran a personal piece from a mother who paid for her daughter to be kidnapped. ( Let us say the comment section was not kind. I fall firmly on the “unethical” side of the debate, but there are a couple of issues at play. On the pro side, it can be successful at solving issues in teens, and parents have a right/obligation to guide their children that is acceptable in the context of a child/parent relationship even though it would be unacceptable in other contexts. On the con side, the endeavour is risky. Some boot camps are fraudulent, homophobic, or hotspots for sexual abuse. There is also the question of rights; do parents really have a moral license to kidnap their children?

    Anyways, in the spirit of convincing myself that this was relevant to the post, do you think that there are some compelling cases where boot camp kidnapping might be acceptable? Is it generally acceptable or generally unacceptable? And so forth 🙂

  3. Interesting follow-up on this topic today thanks to an internal 60 Minutes report:

    “The questions no one asked:
    * Would entering a contract with Ms Faulkner under which Nine was obliged to pay funds directly to the child recovery agency be seen as encouraging her to commit some unlawful act in Lebanon?
    * Could such an arrangement exacerbate the potential consequences for Nine of being linked to the child recovery agency’s activities?
    * Were any of the staff of Nine participating in an unlawful activity in Lebanon? If found to have done so, what were the possible penalties?
    * What were the other possible consequences for the 60 Minutes team, if the plan for the retrieval of Ms Faulkner’s children was unsuccessful or resulted in injury to any of the people involved (including the 60 Minutes team)?
    * What was the likely impact on the reputation of Nine and 60 Minutes, in those circumstances?
    * Would it be prudent to seek an opinion from Nine’s Director of News & Current Affairs or an external adviser to fully understand the risks which are being taken?
    * Does the interest in telling Ms Faulkner’s story sufficiently outweigh the risks which are involved in producing the story?”

    Great questions for contemplating the context and likely consequences of the operation. Hopefully this sort of analysis will become par for the course next time 60 Minutes gets a bright idea.

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