Concern over children at risk of violence in an international child custody case led human rights judges to make a €16,000 award today against Romania.
After a 2015 summer holiday Romania, the applicants in the case of O.C.I. and Others v. Romania (application no. 49450/17), a mother (Ms O.C.I.) and her two children, all nationals of the country, refused to return to their habitual place of residence with the father in Italy.
He brought proceedings for the return of the children to Italy, under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
The mother opposed the return. She alleged that her husband was violent towards the children. According to the woman, he beat them if they disobeyed and humiliated them by calling them names. The mother submitted video-recordings of such violent episodes. She alleged the abuse had worsened in recent years and she felt obliged to seek refuge in Romania.
In 2016 the Romanian courts allowed the father’s application for the return of the children, a decision upheld in 2017.
The courts found that the children had been subjected to physical force by their father, but that there had only been occasional acts of violence which would not reoccur “often enough to pose a grave risk.”
They also found that, in any case, the Italian authorities would be able to protect the children if the risk of abuse was brought to their attention.
The authorities have not so far, however, been able to enforce the return order because the children have refused to go back to Italy. The applicants are all still apparently living in Romania.
In today’s European court judgement, human rights judges ruled that the Romanian courts had failed to give enough consideration to the grave risk of the applicant children being subjected to domestic violence when ordering their return to their father in Italy, which was one of the exceptions to the principle under international law that children should be returned to their habitual place of residence.
In its committee judgement in the case the European Court of Human Rights has unanimously held that there had been:
a violation of Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights.
According to the court, even if there was mutual trust between Romania and Italy’s child-protection authorities under EU law, that did not mean that Romania had been obliged to send the children back to an environment where they were at risk, leaving it up to Italy to deal with any abuse if it reoccurred.
Just satisfaction (Article 41)
The court held that Romania was to pay, jointly, to the applicants 12,500 euros (EUR) in respect of non-pecuniary damage and EUR 3,645 to Ms O.C.I. in respect of costs and expenses.
The judgment is final.