German girl trapped at home for 7 years, finally freed

The 8-year-old girl was deprived of contact with the outside world the entire time she was confined to her mother's house.

 View through the waterway in Attendorn to the church tower of St. Johannes Baptist, Attendorn, Germany. (photo credit: VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
View through the waterway in Attendorn to the church tower of St. Johannes Baptist, Attendorn, Germany.
(photo credit: VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

An eight-year-old girl in the West German town of Attendorn was locked away at her mother’s home for seven years before finally being discovered in September and sent to foster care, German media reports.

Welfare officials in Attendorn have said that the girl cannot perform everyday tasks – such as walking upstairs – and has not had contact with the outside world the entire time she was confined to the downstairs portion of the house.

“The world is now upside down for the child. It will feel like being on another planet,” an expert from the Child Protection Association told German media. The girl reportedly never had contact with another person outside of the household, had never been to school and did not go outdoors throughout the seven years she was kept in her family's cruel captivity.

The German public remains in widespread disbelief that a child could remain hidden, apparently unnoticed, for so long in a small town of 24,000 people.

 Attendorn, Germany. (credit: Karl-Heinz Lehmann VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS) Attendorn, Germany. (credit: Karl-Heinz Lehmann VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

How could the girl be kept hidden away for so long?

German prosecutors believe that the girl's mother may have been trying to keep the child away from her father, from whom she'd separated shortly before the girl was born. After being awarded joint custody of the girl in 2016, she reportedly refused to let the girl’s father see her. 

The girl, who has not been seen by her father since 2014 – when she was just six months old – was being kept in her maternal grandparents' home. Authorities say the mother and grandparents have remained silent about the case and that they've not yet been able to establish a motive.

In 2015, the mother told the Attendorn municipality that she was moving to Calabria, Italy. Thus, both were removed from the population register, as is usual in such cases, and put the family under the German government’s radar.

What happens now?

The grandparents and the mother are being investigated on suspicion of unlawful imprisonment and abuse. Prosecutors say the mother could face up to 10 years in jail, though no charges have been brought to date.

The girl has been in foster care since the day authorities discovered her in September. German courts will soon appoint a supplementary nurse to make decisions in the interests of the child, German media agency SauerlandKurier reported. To do this, the expert will certainly first have to look at the files and get to know the girl, senior public prosecutor von Grotthuss told SauerlandKurier.

Her biological father, who last saw her when she was about six months old, hopes to get custody of the child. "At the moment it's best that she's in a foster family," he acknowledged, recognizing the girl’s potential mental state amid the trauma she lived through.

The girl is currently not allowed to be visited by relatives - not even by her father. "I'm waiting for the day when I can see my daughter again," he declared.