An eight-year-old girl was freed after allegedly being locked away by her mother and grandparents in western Germany since she was less than a year old, leaving her so weak that she was scarcely able to climb stairs by herself, The Guardian reported on Monday, November 7, 2022. 

The girl, named only as “Maria” in German media, is believed to have spent most of the last seven and a half years in a locked room at her grandparents’ house in Attendorn, a small town of about 25,000 residents in the Sauerland hills east of Cologne. 

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“She can’t have managed to get much of a glimpse of the outside world,” the prosecutor Patrick Baron von Grotthuss told local newspaper SauerlandKurier.

Doctors who examined the girl after she was freed on 23 September found no signs of physical abuse or malnourishment. However, her muscles were severely underdeveloped and she appeared to not have been out in the light of day since she was a toddler. Grotthuss said she was “barely able to climb stairs on her own or navigate uneven ground”.

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German broadcaster WDR reported the girl was now in foster care. The prosecutor has charged the mother with deprivation of liberty and mistreatment. The grandparents are also under investigation. 

According to the local prosecutor, the girl was examined in a children’s clinic. The prosecutor’s office said the girl had never seen a forest before, been in a meadow or driven in a car. Despite never having been to a kindergarten or school, the girl was able to read and count.

Why the girl was hidden from the public remains unclear—her mother and grandparents declined to give answers during police questioning, according to several reports in German media. 

According to the investigation, the mother told authorities and the child’s father, who she was separated from, that she was moving to Italy. Instead, she remained in Attendorn, allegedly living with her parents. 

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Youth welfare officers and police became alerted due to anonymous tips, but multiple attempts to enter the house were unsuccessful due to the residents refusing entry.

Relatives of the mother told investigators that the two had never lived in Italy and were contactable via a German landline, a claim that was confirmed when Italian police told the Olpe district youth welfare office on 12 September that the mother and the child had never resided at the Italian address. Eleven days later, following a court order, police and youth welfare officers found the girl at her grandparents’ home, The Guardian added. 

The public prosecutor’s office in the city of Siegen is investigating the child’s mother and grandparents over false imprisonment and mistreatment of a minor. The mother, who is reported to be 47, could face up to 10 years in prison.