Friday 23 March 2018

Belgian girl (12) afraid to go home in case 'mummy would punch me', High Court told

A 12-YEAR-old Belgian girl whose father brought her to live here - amid allegations by her she had been ill-treated by her mother and her partner - should be sent back to Belgium under the care of authorities there, a High Court judge has ruled.

Mr Justice George Birmingham said there was a hint of "forum shopping" by the father after he told his daughter that, by travelling to Ireland, the judges would decide she could stay with him.

The best forum for the issue of custody to be dealt with were the Belgian courts which already had an involvement in the family's affairs over the last four years, the judge said.

In 2008, the parents separated and the mother and child moved from where they had been living in Bequia, in the Caribbean, back to the mother's native Belgium, the High Court heard.

Later that year, the girl went for the summer to her father, who was now living in Portugal. However, at the end of the holiday, she did not return and was enrolled in a local school.

The Portuguese courts ordered her return to Belgium, following an application by her mother, and in July 2010 the Belgian courts gave the mother primary custody with secondary custody to the father.

The girl was allowed to spend holidays again in Portugal with the father but during the mid-term break last February, they both arrived in Ireland where the father turned up at Togher Garda Station in Cork and also phoned the mother to say where they were.

The mother then applied to the High Court seeking her return under the Hague Convention on civil aspects of international child abduction.

Ordering her return yesterday, Mr Justice George Birmingham said he was satisfied detailed arrangements have been put in place, and will be implemented, for the protection of the girl when she arrives back in Belgium.

To conclude otherwise would involve "passing a vote of no confidence in the Belgian judicial system" and this was not something the judge was prepared to do.

The judge said the girl had made a number of allegations of ill-treatment against her mother and her partner. These included that she was handcuffed to a clothes line, beaten with a wooden spoon, locked in a bathroom with spiders and her bare feet stood by her mother in high heels.

It was important to note however that these are allegations, he said. Documentation created by the Belgian courts indicated there has been a history of the mother and the father making claims against each other which have not been verified, he said.

Some of the allegations made against the mother echoed allegations made at an earlier stage by the child against against her own father. This was particularly so in relation to an allegation that the girl was detained in a bathroom from time to time "where there were snakes and (she) was threatened this would happen to her again," the judge said.

If these allegations were true, it would place the child in an intolerable situation if returned to Belgium. However, the judge did not believe that by ordering her return she would be exposed to this treatment because she would be brought to a nominated care centre there and also have her own legal team to represent her in any proceedings there.

The judge also noted in an interview with a social worker here, the child was asked how she would feel about a return to Belgium and she replied she would be scared because "Mummy would punch me....because I went with Daddy." She also said if she had to return to Belgium she would feel much safer if it was not in her mother's care.

The judge said the child's views have to be taken into account but have to be seen in the context of a difficult relationship between the parents for four years, a period during which the Belgian courts have been actively involved.

The child's wishes had to yield to the general Hague Convention principles that the country of habitual residence should deal with disputed issues of custody and access, he added.

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