Men who father children by rape should be blocked from automatic parental rights, MP says

Men who father children by rape should have their automatic parental rights removed, a Labour MP has said.
Speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday, Louise Haigh proposed that rapists should not have a legal right to children who are born as a result of their crimes.   
Ms Haigh, MP for Sheffield Heely, cited the case of sexual abuse survivor Sammy Woodhouse, who testified against her rapist in a trial that helped expose the Rotherham grooming scandal. 
MPs heard how Ms Woodhouse’s rapist, Arshid Hussain, was actively encouraged by Rotherham Council to apply to the court for “contact” with her son, who was conceived as a result of that rape. 

According to Ms Haigh, Rotherham Council contacted Hussain without notifying Sammy.
Ms Haigh, 31, told the Commons: “It is inconceivable to anyone with any sympathy, empathy or a drop of common sense” that Hussain was encouraged to apply to the court.
“It is difficult to imagine how anyone could have imposed a greater threat to Sammy than Arshid Hussain. That is why the law clearly needs to change,” she said. 
“We need to flip the presumption that anyone who has fathered a child through rape should be encouraged to apply for access, regardless of the risk they present, to removing that automatic right and allowing the courts to only grant access in exceptional circumstances if it is in the clear interest of the child.”
Ms Haigh’s legislation, The Parental Rights (Rapists) and Family Courts Bill, also seeks to allow an inquiry into how family courts operate in response to victims of domestic abuse. 
Currently, family courts in the UK are private to protect children, and are not subject to the same scrutiny which can be applied to the criminal courts.
“It’s precisely this privacy which puts some women at risk,” said Ms Haigh. 
Ms Woodhouse was 14 when she met Mr Hussain, who was one of three brothers behind the grooming and sexual abuse of over 50 girls. Mr. Hussain was jailed for 35 years in 2016.  
Speaking in a video posted on Twitter in December, Ms Woodhouse said: “This story is actually about myself, about my son, about the man that raped me and the fact that Rotherham council have offered him to apply for parental rights over my child.”
She urged the government “to change the law to ensure rapists can’t gain access to children conceived through rape and abuse.”
“People, women and children are being put at direct risk,” she said. 
Rachel Almeida, spokesperson for independent charity Victim Support, said: “The law should be on the side of the mother and child, not on the side of the rapist, and we support changes to address this imbalance.”
Ms Haigh originally proposed an amendment to the 1989 Children’s Act. However, the government’s said this would undermine the convicted rapist’s right to “a family life.”
“This is nonsense,” said Ms Haigh on Wednesday. “This is a qualified right and no one could conclude that his rights should supersede the safeguarding concerns of mother or child.” 
A 2016 Women’s Aid report, Nineteen Child Homicides, revealed that 19 children had been intentionally killed by a parent in circumstances relating to child contact over a ten year period; for 12 of these children, contact with the perpetrator was arranged by the court.
Katie Russell, Media Relations Co-ordinator for Rape Crisis England & Wales, said that Ms. Woodhouse’s experience “is far from an isolated incident".
“Rape Crisis has called for a complete overhaul of the criminal justice system in relation to sexual violence and abuse, which is currently and routinely failing victims and survivors, for many years,” said Ms Russell.
“We have included and continue to include a call for a full review of family courts practice in this demand. We agree with Sammy Woodhouse and Louise Haigh MP that such a review is urgently needed, not just regarding domestic abuse, but also in relation to all sexual violence and abuse.”
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