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Girl back in US after bitter custody battle to get her out of Mali

The Grio
Kunbi Tinuoye
July 16, 2014

After more than two years, a young girl who was abducted by her Malian father has been reunited with her African-American mother.

The news comes after dramatic events last Thursday that facilitated Muna N’Diaye’s hastily organized transatlantic flight to her hometown in Morehead, Kentucky.

“I feel whole again,” said Muna’s mother, Dr. Noelle Hunter. “For nearly three years, a part of me was gone.”

Muna, now nearly seven, was kidnapped by her father, Ibrahim N’Diaye, and taken to his native Bamako, Mali, West Africa, in December 2011. It followed a bitter divorce battle which resulted in both parents being awarded joint custody.

N’Diaye smuggled Muna out of the country during scheduled days with his daughter.

A warrant was issued for N’Diaye’s arrest, but he continued to flout the law and for 18 months refused to allow his ex-wife to have contact with their daughter.

Still, Dr. Hunter never gave up hope and proceeded to spearhead a high profile campaign to secure her daughter’s safe return. Her efforts included working on online petitions, meeting with government officials and traveling to Washington D.C. and the Republic of Mali. She was also given invaluable support by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Then, last year, Hunter was forced to make an impromptu trip to Mali upon receiving correspondence stating her ex-husband had filed for sole custody of their daughter in a local court.

“The (Mali) court ruled in our favor both times to bring Muna home, but my ex husband didn’t comply with either of those hearings, and he appealed them and this delayed the process,” said Hunter. She had no choice but to return back to the United States without her daughter.

This month, Hunter returned to West Africa after hearing that the Mali courts had rejected her husband’s appeal. On Thursday, Hunter, alongside a delegation which included the U.S. Ambassador, met the Minister of Justice for Mali who said the “case was resolved.”

“Once the Mali Minister of Justice made his decision, the U.S. Embassy took the necessary steps to help escort us home,” said Hunter. “We knew we needed to leave that day. She came home legally with the blessing of the Mali government and with the assistance of the U.S. Government.”

“Through many disappointments, struggles and setbacks, Noelle never lost hope,” said Natalie Wilson, co-founder of the Black and Missing Foundation. “Her faith gave her the comfort to continue to fight to bring Muna home.”

The timing could not have been more perfect. “In Mali, by their cultural standards, when she turns 7, my rights as her mother would significantly diminish in favor of the father,” said Hunter.

With all of the changes in Muna’s life, Hunter believes she is coping. “She’s gone from one extreme to the other, but for the most part, she’s doing well.”

Muna speaks three languages, English, French and Bambara (the most widely spoken language in Mali), but she is unable to read or write in English.

While N’Diaye does not have legal authority to come back to the United States, Hunter said she still has concerns.

“I do believe that he’s [her ex-husband] going to fight this,” she said. “I just don’t know how. I have some concerns for our safety. We are taking precautions. This can never happen again.”

Hunter added she that will continue to work with families of abducted children through her organization, iSTAND Parent Network. Founded by Hunter in 2014, the organization aims to bring to the forefront international parental abductions.

The case renews concerns about the relative ease with which one parent can whisk a child out of the United States without joint parental consent

Chris Schmidt of the U.S. law firm of Bryan Cave LLP said in an interview last year with theGrio that international parental child abductions in the U.S. are big problems because they are relatively easy to accomplish.

“The United States, unlike most Western countries, allows one parent to leave the country with a child without the written consent of the other parent,” said Schmidt. “There are no exit controls that easily prevent international child abduction.”

The situation is even more complicated because the Republic of Mali is not a signatory to the Hague Abduction Convention.

Photo credit: The Grio

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