A FIFTEEN-YEAR-OLD girl is campaigning to change the law to stop abusive parents controlling their children after family splits.
Heather Nicol launched an online petition which attracted 500 signatures and has now held a meeting with the Legal Affairs Minister to put her case.
The Boroughmuir High School pupil wants to curtail parental rights in cases of domestic abuse, ending the situation, for instance, where a father who has left the family can prevent a child going abroad on holiday.
Under the current law, if a father is abusive towards his wife and they separate, he still has rights over the child even though the child may not want to see him. If the law was changed it would mean the perpetrator would no longer have a hold over them.
Heather said she decided to start her petition one evening when she was watching the news.
“It just came to me, this is something that’s not addressed in court. I went onto the 38 degrees website and wrote my petition.
“It calls for the law to be amended so parental rights are removed or reduced when there is a proven background of abuse. It got 518 signatures in two months.”
She said people often did not realise the implications for children when there was a divorce or separation as a result of domestic abuse.
“They are getting out of an abusive situation, but that does not mean there’s not a lot of psychological stuff still going on.
“Abusive parents can still force their partner’s hand and their children’s hand into doing what they want.
“To go on holiday abroad when your parents are separated you need to ask permission from both.
“They can say no – or they can say yes and then change their mind multiple times.
“You could face being arrested because you are trying to leave the country without the permission of that parent.
“No-one really thinks about that.
Heather – who says she wants to go on to do a law degree – had a meeting at Holyrood with Annabelle Ewing, Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs, who is in charge of a review of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 and attempts to modernise family justice.
“It’s 23 years old so it’s time for an update,” said Heather, who is writing her own response to the Scottish Government consultation which is part of the review.
And she said she was optimistic that the government would listen to her pleas for a change in the law.
“I don’t see why they wouldn’t. It’s a valid issue I’m bringing up. The petition has 500 signatures. If I’ve got this far it’s obviously something that needs to be looked at.”
Lothian Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale, who has been working with Heather, said: “I think Heather has run a fantastic campaign and her timing is perfect.
“She has come up with something that genuinely matters and can make a real difference if people with power listen to her enough.