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‘Children repeatedly abused as state stood idle’

The Commissioner for Children’s Rights in Cyprus, Leda Koursoumba, has hit out against the authorities for failing protect a group of siblings who were subjected to what she has described as “all kinds of abuse” for years.

Speaking to state radio on Friday, Koursoumba made her report on the harrowing case public the previous day, a month after sending it to authorities including the police and Welfare Services without getting a response.

While concerned about the lack of response to her report, Koursoumba said she was far more upset about what the children at the centre of the case went through for years before anyone in power stood up for them.

The children had been born to teenage parents who were ill-equipped to properly take care of them. Their father physically abused their mother and threatened her life when she tried to stay in contact with them after their engagement ended.

He was also accused of sexually abusing one of the children when she was just four years old.

Koursoumba also suggested that lessons in parenting skills be immediately introduced to help couples like the one at the centre of this case be a better position to properly care for their children.

“Everyone acknowledges that family violence is a problem, not only in Cyprus, but everywhere.  If measures are not taken to protect children and provide family with support so they can function properly, things will not get better for the children,” she said.

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To best protect them, she has not revealed where the children at the centre of this case, are now living although it is understood they are no longer in immediate danger.

Koursoumba says she was first been asked to look into the case by the children’s paternal grandfather on February 2, 2015 over the phone and then in writing through a lawyer on February 11, 2015.

“He said his three grandchildren, aged three, four and six, were under the care of the Head of the Social Welfare Services and staying at a Children’s Home after their father was accused of sexually abusing the four-year-old,” Koursoumba says in her report. The middle child is a girl and the other two are boys.

Sexual abuse allegations

She was also told, by the grandfather, that the children’s’ mother had left the family and, although entitled to, did not visit the children.

The children and their father were staying with the grandfather and grandmother and the grandfather complained that the children should not have be removed from the family home before a police investigation found grounds that his son had indeed been abusing one of the children.

However, investigating the grandfather’s complaint, Koursoumba’s office found there was far more to the story.

“The father’s family had alienated the children from their mother, preventing her from seeing them although she was entitled to,” the Commissioner noted.

She also said concern of the sexual abuse of one of the children had arisen at the child’s school.

Koursoumba noted that the police had asked the Mental Health Services to assist them in getting a statement from the child while, ultimately, led the police to decide sexual abuse had not occurred and the Law Office of the Republic to decide there was likely no reason to press charges.

It was decided that the children should return home by February 6, 2015 if no new incriminating evidence emerged even though the Social Welfare Service and Mental Health Services suggested they remain where they were until investigations were complete.

These events came after, and were followed by, a series of apparent missteps on the part of the authorities, leaving the children exposed to danger for years, Koursoumba said.

She noted the Social Welfare Services had attempted to re-establish contact between the mother and children while they were at the Children’s Home but, according to Koursoumba, their grandfather threatened to kill their mother if she agreed to taking on custody of the children. Similar threats were made when the Welfare Services tried to settle the children with a foster family.

Social workers threatened

The children’s grandfather and father both tried to see the children when they were at the Children’s Home even though they had been ordered not to, according to Koursoumba, going so far as to threaten an employee.

Although the police were called, Koursoumba said they did not take any action against the father or grandfather for their actions at the Home or threats against the mother or Social Welfare officials.

On their part, the police said video testimony had been taken from the four-year-old and her brother and that the little girl was examined by a doctor but that because the children did not show up for an appointment with the Mental Health Services, a relevant report was not prepared.

The police also said that they did not act on the threats or the father and grandfather attempting to see the children because no formal complaint had been made to them about it.

Koursoumba’s report also reveals details about the relationship between the children’s parents, including that got engaged when the father was 17 and the mother 14 and already pregnant with their first child.

At first their paternal grandmother took on primary care of the children with their mother soon after saying she was being abused by her husband although she never pressed charges.

The family began receiving assistance from the Social Welfare Services on July 10, 2008 with the support increased from April 2012 when the parents ended their engagement.

The authorities found that the children’s father did not contribute to their care or protection in any way, leaving them completely in the hands of his own parents, and preventing their mother from having any contact with them.

They said he as a rule refused to cooperate with them, in contrast to the mother who realised the limitations created by her young age and attempted improving relations with her ex for the sake of their children.

However, by June 2012, she had agreed to the children’s care being put in their father’s hands, after, according to Koursoumba, being intimidated by him and also promised she would be allowed regular contact with them, something that did not come about.

A decision was later made for the little girl to go to her mother and the two boys to stay with their father but the father prevented the children from meeting up and also refused to allow the mother to see her sons by threatening her every time she tried to do so.

Police complaint

In October 2012, the mother made a written complaint to the police in connection to the violence she had been subjected to at the hands of her former fiancé.

On Aril 2, 2013, the father made a written complaint to the police saying the mother hit their daughter. It was investigated and the police found no signs of abuse, however the incident pushed the mother into handing over the little girl to her father. It is understood the three children had also asked to be together and that their mother had, at the time, said she trusted their grandparents to properly look after them.

She was, however, only able to see them once during all of 2014, on her birthday and after the intervention of the Social Welfare Services, an official from which accompanied her to the grandparents’ home.

While there, the official determined that all the children were sleeping in the same room with their father and that the little girl was sleeping in the same bed as him.

The children’s school had, in the meantime, contacted the Services on many occasions saying the children had behavioural problems while the little girl’s kindergarten said she often arrived in a very upset state.

Failure of the system

Educational Psychology Services and Social Welfare Services efforts to help the children through the school beginning on March 19, 2014 proved unsuccessful and it was on October 31 that year decided that the children begin seeing a child psychologist. The parents gave their written consent but the children never met with one.

Then, on January 16, 2015, the head of the little girl’s school said that the day earlier she had described being sexually abused by her father.

It also emerged that their father’s young brother, with a history of mental illness, lived in the same home and that their father had, during his National Guard Service attempted to commit suicide twice as a result of his own mental illness.

However, the authorities decided this was not enough to hand the children’s care over the Welfare Services on a permanent basis.

The Welfare Services on January 19, 2015 eventually applied to have the children removed, confusion remains over the exact legal base the request was made on and on what charges, if any, their father will face.

 

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