- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 12, 2004

OULU, Finland — Two South Carolina boys have languished for almost two months in the high-security ward of a children’s psychiatric unit while the courts sort out a custody battle between their American father and Finnish mother.

The mother, whose case initially won wide sympathy in her native Finland, has reportedly been seen pacing through the pine trees outside the institution in Oulu, hoping to catch a glimpse of her sons through the windows.

The father, meanwhile, says he repeatedly has had to warn the boys, ages 10 and 13, against trying to steal a set of keys for a breakout, and that he still hopes to have his sons back in South Carolina for Christmas.

The legal imbroglio, which has become an embarrassment in the eyes of many Finns, began when the boys’ mother, Outi Koski, brought her sons to Finland in 2003 for a summer vacation, concealing her plans to remain in the country with them.

The divorced father, 48-year-old chemical engineer John Rogers, went to court in Finland seeking his sons’ return under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, a treaty that provides for the return of children in such disputes to their “habitual residence” within six weeks.

But it took that long just for Finnish authorities to recognize Mr. Rogers’ petition and another five months before the Court of Appeals of Helsinki ruled in favor of Mrs. Koski, saying she could keep the boys in Finland.

The Supreme Court overturned that decision, and the boys, Jake and Alex Rogers, should have gone home to South Carolina in August 2004. But Mrs. Koski, backed by an upwelling of nationalist support, went underground, hiding her sons on a farm owned by a sympathetic radio-station personality.

Law-enforcement officials finally seized the boys on Oct. 20 of this year, and a doctor sent them for evaluation to Finland’s Oulu University Hospital children’s psychiatric unit.

By the time Mr. Rogers reached Finland to bring them home, Mrs. Koski had won a stay of enforcement in Kajaani District Court. She ultimately was turned down by that court, but within hours the Eastern Finland Court of Appeals in Kuopio had agreed to consider her appeal.

During this time, Mr. Rogers was allowed limited access to his sons at the Oulu psychiatric unit, where they are being held to prevent either parent from absconding with them before the case is settled.

Mr. Rogers said the boys greet him on such visits by asking him, “‘When are you going to get us out of here, Dad?’”

“Several times, they’ve asked me to plot an escape to freedom,” said Mr. Rogers.

Mrs. Koski is now forbidden from having any contact with the boys, and local news media say she has been seen wandering outside their hospital looking up through the pine trees in the hope of glimpsing them.

Mr. Rogers said he and his sons heard whistling and looked out the window recently to see the word “Mom” written in the snow. The letters were 2 yards to 3 yards across and were sharply cut, as if someone had pressed a board into the snow.

Late last month, the Kuopio appellate judges sided with Mrs. Koski and ordered the boys back to her immediately. Staff psychiatrists informed the boys of the judgment in the morning, but by evening the same day, the Supreme Court had annulled part of the Kuopio decision.

Last week, the Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal by Mr. Rogers, which virtually all legal experts thinkwill go in his favor.

Even some of Mrs. Koski’s supporters concede that something has gone very wrong. J.P. Roos, a Helsinki University social-policy researcher who helped Mrs. Koski garner sympathy, called the boys’ confinement a violation of their basic rights.

Finnish law strictly regulates involuntary psychiatric hospitalization. Doctors may commit a minor against the will of his parents only in cases of severe mental illness or some other life-threatening psychiatric condition.

A senior lawyer at the Justice Ministry, declining to be quoted by name, conceded that holding the boys in the hospital was illegal. “Yes, it is wrong,” he said, “but we see our obligation to enforce the Hague Convention as the first priority.”

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