More than 80% of respondents in a national study do not know what parental alienation means with just 3.4% defining the term correctly.
The study - Parental Alienation The Maltese Scenario - was commissioned by a technical committee set up by the government in January to raise awareness about parental alienation.
It was carried out by Vincent Marmara who questioned 600 respondents.
Parental alienation is when one parent manipulates a child to reject the other parent. This can be done by blocking contact with the other parent or psychologically manipulating the child.
The study found that 25.2% of respondents knew people going through a case of parental alienation, while 74.8% were not aware of any such situation.
The statistics were presented to the media by lawyer and committee chairperson Andy Ellul on Friday.
He said the data provides an insight into how the population understand parental alienation.
According to the findings, 12% explained the term as "parents who do not take care of children".
Women more aware of the term
According to the study, at 60.5%, women were more knowledgeable about the term than men (53.3%).
The most knowledgeable (82.1%) were high-income earners, the least (38.6%) were residents in the southern harbour district.
At 64%, single respondents knew more about the term than married ones (53%).
When asked if they have any family members going through such cases, only 7.7% said they did.
Nearly all parents believe they are not at risk
Two out of every three (66.9%) respondents surveyed were parents.
Of these, 98.2% feel safe, with close to 29% of them attributing this to their good relationship.
“Some parents believe that just because they are married or living under the same roof, they cannot be at risk of parental alienation. This is not the case,” Ellul said.
All respondents who believed they are at risk of being denied from seeing their children cited "problems in the relationship" as the main reason.
What happens now?
Ellul said that a second study on the issue is ongoing. This is being carried out by the University of Malta.
Part one of this second study has been concluded. It compiled data from 30 professionals, such as therapists, psychologists, educators and social workers.
In the second phase, adults who are victims of parental alienation will be interviewed.
The information will serve as a base for the committee to put together a national educational campaign and a national strategy on parental alienation, Ellul said.
Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis, who was also present, said the fact that many did not know what parental alienation meant was "of concern".
Another minister present, Family Minister Michael Falzon, said that the aim of the study was to provide more information with the aim of improving children’s quality of life.
“Once all the data is collected, we will do whatever is necessary to ensure that the rights of the children are safeguarded," he said.