On May 25, the World Health Organization (WHO) included “parental alienation” as a “caregiver-child relationship problem” in ICD-11, the International Classification of Diseases 11th Revision. ICD-11 comes into effect on Jan. 1, 2022.
This new term is described on the WHO website as: “Substantial and sustained dissatisfaction within a caregiver-child relationship associated with significant disturbance in functioning.” While that sounds nebulous, parental alienation is generally understood to mean that one parent negatively influences the child(ren), resulting in the child(ren) fearing or rejecting the other parent. Basically, the ICD-11 is recognizing that brainwashing the child(ren) against the other parent and/or keeping the child(ren) from the other parent amounts to abuse, which leads to significant mental health issues for the child(ren) in question. To me, as a child of divorce, I completely support the inclusion of parental alienation in ICD-11.
Judges, lawyers, and social workers, need the appropriate tools at their disposal to deal with this important issue. Spiteful divorces are nothing new, and the fallout from them affects the children the most, in terms of child(ren)’s ability to form any kind of positive relationship, with anyone, now and in the future.
Depending who you ask, ICD-11 is a step backwards in terms of women and children’s rights, though I’m not seeing this. There have been a number of women’s rights groups who have asked the WHO to reconsider the inclusion of parental alienation, because they don’t agree that a child’s fear or rejection of one parent is always due to the negative influence of the other parent.
Granted, we can all agree that there are very real times when the parent with custody tries to limit the access to the other parent for reasons of real abuse or neglect, but the systems need to be in place to recognize when the parent with custody is manipulating the system for selfish (or worse) reasons.
I have seen too many cases where the parent who has custody speaks ill of the other parent, rewards the child(ren) for doing the same, and uses a quiver of tricks to poison the relationship with the other parent. At the far extreme, I have witnesses major abuses of the justice system, including making false allegations with the Children’s Aid Society, etc, all to limit the other parent’s access to the children. Sadly, this is one (perhaps one of the only) areas in the justice system where the system is stacked against men. I have known of women who use their acting skills to use the system to their advantage, without consideration of what their tactics of parental alienation do to the other parent, their family, and most importantly, to the child(ren) involved.
I have witnessed a number of acrimonious custody battles where fathers are being actively alienated by the mother, and that the mother is using every tool to make the child(ren) fear/dislike/hate their father without cause (other than for vengeance?). I’ve known women to move out of town with the children, without consulting the ex, severely limiting his visitation, and those who falsely accuse their ex of abuse. The problem is that by the time CAS finds nothing, the damage is often done, as the father’s visitation was limited or halted. Proving their innocence, and/or trying to parent under the judicial microscope is harrowing, and a very expensive, and lengthy proposition.
(Yes I know the gender roles can be reversed, but I am speaking to what I know and have seen … after all, this is my opinion column).
Sadly, it is only often much later in life that child(ren) realize what was perpetrated upon them and they find a way to have a relationship with the alienated parent, but at what cost? Parental alienation is absolutely a form of emotional abuse; a mental health issue that will leave deep scars.
The WHO is trying to acknowledge this abuse, and address that children need to be enabled to have positive relationships with both parents, as it is in their mental health best interests. With ICD-11, professionals can learn more about this and be on the lookout for the symptoms children exhibit with parental alienation. There also has to be the acknowledgement by social workers, lawyers, and judges, that while not the norm, there are very real times when a child’s unjustified rejection of one parent after divorce and separation is caused purposefully and callously by the other parent.
Psychological manipulation of children of divorce and separation has to stop, and the ICD-11 inclusion will hopefully be the tipping point to the system not being stacked against good parents who are desperate to have a positive, fulfilling relationship with their child(ren).