KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 4 — A Malaysian mother barred from leaving China due to her efforts to recover her twice-abducted child said she does not regret her actions.
Instead, she spoke of her determination to fight the ban and regain their freedom to leave China and return home.
Cheng Chau Yang, 42, told Malay Mail Online of the events stretching back years that led to the ongoing travel ban against her and her eight-year-old Malaysian child, and her continued struggle to keep her child with her.
Cheng married a Chinese national in 2004 and had a son in July 2009, but the marriage was described by Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) and her family’s lawyer as “abusive”, with Cheng suffering both verbal and physical abuse.
A child’s trauma
The child was abducted twice in 2012 and 2013 by the now ex-husband, with the second abduction lasting 820 days.
Cheng said she was shocked to discover that her son — who was, prior to abduction, attending an international school and could already speak English — had lost all his English skills and could not even remember the alphabet following the second abduction.
The child also had a lot of anger inside him after his father’s family tried to snatch him away for the third time in January 2016 outside a court in Shanghai, she claimed.
“He would suddenly cry himself, and then you ask him why, he will refuse to tell you and just cry; nightmare is often after that snatching incident and also wetting his pants and bed, and then always checking the lock,” she told Malay Mail Online when contacted, adding that he would still check door locks from time to time.
The child’s trauma was so severe that Cheng had to send him for therapy in March 2016, but he has recovered well and they are now living a stable life.
A mother’s longing
Cheng’s story is now shared in the form of a short YouTube video or docu-drama called Mama on a Mission, in which she re-enacts scenes of her tale. including how she felt when she saw families with children during the abduction period.
“I didn’t want to go out during weekends if I don’t have to, I cannot go to malls with indoor playgrounds. During Children’s Day or Mother’s Day, all these days, I have to stay indoors, I cannot see people with kids, it’s hard, those social media during Children’s Day or Mother’s Day, when people post pictures, that’s killing me,” she said when describing the difficult period.
Initially she did not want to relive and dwell on the ordeal of losing her child by appearing in the video, but said the experience turned out to be cathartic.
Missing out on family moments
Cheng has not visited Malaysia for around four years, partly due to the travel ban and because she had wanted to be there for her abducted child in case he was returned home.
“The weddings of friends at my age is less but I have missed a lot of Chinese New Year, even before this ban was in place, because I was looking for my child, I was very naive, I was very reluctant to leave China back then when my child was not with me.
“I was very worried when one day my ex-husband came back to senses and then he suddenly send the child to my doorsteps and I was not around,” she said, adding that she mostly stayed in China then unless there were important meetings abroad that she must attend as a manager in a multinational firm.
“I’ve missed a lot of things at work and also for my family, all the reunions. It’s not just me actually, my whole Cheng family is never complete, one of them will always be here with me. And then Chinese New Year we will be celebrating separately and it’s very lonely to celebrate festivals outside from home, just a few of us, like two or three of us,” she said.
Local ethnic Chinese families would traditionally have their annual reunions during Chinese New Year, a festival which Cheng said was always celebrated with her extended family — including her mother’s seven siblings and her many cousins — in her hometown of Muar, Johor.
“And one more thing I would say I would sometimes find it hard to accept is that I have to keep preparing myself for, for example, funerals of loved ones that I cannot attend, I have to keep psychologically preparing myself. My grandmother is 94, my father is 78, my mother is 71...So mentally, this is challenging I would say,” she said, noting that she could not be around for the birth of her younger sister’s second child and could not leave to visit the baby.
Her attempts on several occasions to visit her then critically ill grandmother in Malaysia were rejected by a Chinese court. The grandmother has since recovered but remains frail.
This was despite her repeatedly telling the court that she does not plan to run off, showing the employment agreement which lasts until end of 2018 and offering to put up a deposit; as the court said it all depended on whether the ex-husband wants to renew the travel ban — up to 10 years — to secure his rights to visit the child.
When will the tunnel end?
Although the ex-husband has failed multiple times to get custody rights to the child, he has changed his address and filed a new court case in Xuhui Court in another Shanghai district to change the custody rights, Cheng said.
“I think his mentality is just to disturb my life, disrupt my life but I don’t think he himself thinks he will win, he has lost twice, twice or three times including the retrial application, he failed all the way,” she said.
“But you know after finding my son, I’m still trapped here, while I’m still fighting to get the ban lifted, he sues me for change of custody, things like that, it’s like it never ends, I don’t know when this whole thing is going to end,” she said.
“Every court case you would have to really prepare for it, and I would say a lot of stress as well but I think maybe to a certain extent maybe I’m also used to this already. But you know it’s like never ending. Everybody is telling me that there’s always light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.
Cheng said her son is a “very mature” child who still remembers the harsh scoldings by his father of her, and would even ask if she had regrets in giving birth to him.
“Sometimes he will ask me, ‘Mummy you took me back, now you can’t go home already, will you feel any regret. Or you know maybe if you didn’t give birth to me, will you be better off?’”
“And I told him that ‘Even if I have to go through this once again, and I knew it, I would still decide to give birth to you. I have no regret about that and if I had to go through this once again, I would do it, including taking you home, taking you back from your dad’,” she said.
Making it public
Cheng said she had sleepless nights before finally deciding to make the story of her plight public. Last week was the first time she showed her face and used her actual name to share her story.
“Although I have done nothing wrong, I have nothing to be ashamed of, but still it’s so personal, but my back is against the wall already, I had no other choice but to just go all out and do it and hope for the best,” she said, adding that the company where she has been working for seven years has been supportive of her decision.
Cheng also has a very supportive family, with the docu-drama shot for free by her cousin and her parents who gave up the lifestyle they enjoyed in Malaysia whenever they spend their time in Shanghai.
Back in Johor, Cheng’s mother had calligraphy and drawing classes and a group of friends; while her father had a rich retirement life with trips with friends and daily visits to his orchard.
“But now when she needs to spend most of her time here, she stopped all her classes, she is alone here, she has no friends, and then she also cannot take care of my grandma anymore and the load has to go to my uncle,” she said.
“So I would say it’s not just me and my son got affected, my whole family and also my grandma and uncles, so it’s a whole family thing,” she added.
Cheng’s elder sister Myra, 46, even quit her job in 2014 in a public listed firm to fly in and out to help her sister in various ways — searching for the nephew, meetings with the Malaysian consulate, providing emotional support during setbacks, planning and managing the campaign.
“I have decided that helping my sister and nephew to regain their freedom is worth sacrificing my career for. I cannot allow the child to be a prisoner in kind just because of the selfish need of revenge by the father. The boy has a whole life in front of him.
“Career can wait, but not the development of an innocent child,” Myra told Malay Mail Online.
What keeps Cheng going is her son and the strong belief that the travel ban would eventually be lifted, just as how her father had the firm belief previously that she would be able to see her abducted child again.
Recounting an Enforcement Court judge’s suggestion for her to get the travel ban lifted by letting the ex-husband take the child away, Cheng said there was no way she would “exchange my freedom with my child”.
“I will not stop fighting for my freedom, just like I didn’t stop fighting for my child, to find my child, when everybody was asking me to just give up,” she said.
Cheng’s family has called on the public to help sign an online petition to urge the China president to lift the travel ban.