Family Court Confronts Fall-Out from Human Trafficking

In a striking example of the pernicious effects of human trafficking, the High Court has had to deal with the fall-out after a 15-year-old gypsy girl was allegedly ‘sold’ by her mother and spirited into Britain for appalling sexual exploitation.

The Romanian-born teenager, of Roma descent, lived in Spain with her family until her mother allegedly sold her to a young man when she was aged just 13. He was said to have trafficked her to the UK and to have repeatedly raped and abused her, also forcing her to steal for him, before she eventually escaped his clutches.

She had thrown herself on the mercy of a local authority, which placed her in foster care and applied to the Court for a care order. However, a vexed issue arose as to whether she was ‘habitually resident’ in England. If not, the English courts would have had no power to consider the council’s application.

Following a preliminary hearing, the Court noted that, although the girl had been born and brought up abroad, she had been living in England for about 18 months. Despite the circumstances of her arrival in this country, she had integrated into English society and was ‘anxious’ to stay in the UK.

She had ‘a particular connection’ to Spain and to Romania, whence her siblings had been repatriated. However, she had given the impression of being ‘at home’ in this country. In those circumstances, the Court accepted jurisdiction to consider the matter after also finding that an English family court would provide the most appropriate forum in which to decide where the girl’s best interests lay.