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Trafficked girl's carer in court fight for access to children's services

A girl who spent her childhood imprisoned in a brothel before being trafficked into the UK for sexual exploitation should not be treated as an adult, her lawyer argued on Wednesday.

Officials from Barnet council, in north London, deemed that the girl was an adult and should not be able to benefit from its services in May 2009, but the girl's carer – who took her in after finding her wandering the streets – argues that she is still a child and should be treated as such.

A judge is being asked to determine the girl's age and decide if she should be able to claim services under the 1989 Children Act.

The girl, referred to only as KN for legal reasons, cannot recall anything of her childhood, other than that she was kept in a brothel in Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the high court in London heard.

Christopher Buttler, appearing for KN and her carer, told Judge Pearl, a deputy high court judge, that from a young age the girl had been sold to strangers for sex and had had a baby taken from her when she was around 12 or 13.

In 2008 she was trafficked to the UK for sexual exploitation but was abandoned on the streets. She was found wandering the streets by a woman who took her into her care and has looked after her ever since.

Buttler told the judge that KN had been diagnosed with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder, and that the Home Office accepted her account of her early life and had granted her five years leave to remain in the UK.

She was described by her clinical psychologist as "one of the most vulnerable persons she had assessed in a decade".

Following an assessment in May 2009 Barnet council judged that KN was an adult and denied her access to services, which can include financial and educational help.

Buttler said those who had worked with KN for more than two years believed she was still eligible for help. Immigration officials, the NSPCC, her carer, an independent social worker, an independent paediatrician and the child trafficking officer at Africans Unite Against Child Abuse were among those who considered her to be under 18 when she entered the UK.

According to the lawyer, KN had been told by the woman who ran the brothel in Goma that she was born on 23 August 1993, which means that would still be currently eligible for help under the Children Act.

Alexandra Topping


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