The Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) has joined a number of concerned feminists and children’s rights advocates, including the Fédération des femmes du Québec, the National Association of Women and the Law (NAWL), and Luke’s Place, in calling on the World Health Organization (WHO) to not include “parental alienation” as a “caregiver-child relationship problem” in the International Classification of Diseases 11th Revision (ICD-11).
There is no official definition of “parental alienation”, but it is generally understood to mean that a child’s fear or rejection of one parent comes from negative influencing by the other parent. Including “parental alienation” in the ICD-11 raises serious concerns about women’s safety and child development as it is frequently used in court to deny credible claims of abuse.
For example, claims of “parental alienation” discount other, well-documented causes of parent-child conflict such as family violence and parental neglect. Researchers in the United States and Canada have found that alienation claims are leading courts to discount evidence of paternal abuse of women and children, remove children from parents (primarily mothers) who seek to protect them, and place children with abusive parents—even in cases where judges acknowledge family violence and abuse. Women and children are silenced as lawyers, mediators, evaluators, and judges fail to investigate claims of abuse and concerns for safety in favour of punishing them for resisting contact.
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The Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) works to advance the substantive equality rights of women and girls through litigation, law reform, and public education. Since 1985, we have intervened in landmark cases that have advanced equality in Canada—helping to prevent violence, eliminate discrimination in the workplace, provide better maternity benefits, ensure a right to pay equity, and allow access to reproductive freedoms.
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