London, Dec 21 : Julian Assange, the controversial WikiLeaks founder, had an affair with a 16-year-old girl when he was 18 and fathered a boy who is now 20 years old, a media report said Monday.

The revelation by the Daily Mail throws new light on Assanges formative teenage years.

It is an irony that even as the whistleblower websites release of thousands of secret US documents has placed him at the centre of a firestorm of controversy over citizens right to know, Australian-born Assange, who is in Britain after being released on bail and awaiting extradition to Sweden to face rape allegations, has remained fanatically secretive about his own past, the daily said.

Raised by his mother Christine - who flew into London from Australia to see him this month - Assange had lived in 37 towns by the time he was 14, receiving much of his education at home.

The identity of his father remains a mystery, but it has been established that his mother was on the run from a former lover who had turned into something of a stalker.

In the late eighties, by the time he was 16 or 17, Julian, his mother and stepbrother found themselves living in a tiny bungalow in the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges, east of Melbourne.

According to the daily, Julian, his stepbrother and mother remained in their ramshackle home for about a year, but at that point 18-year-old Julian met a local girl of 16, with whom he developed a relationship.

Soon after, the couple moved a few miles away to a cottage. This was the home where Assanges lover became pregnant. Even then he would spend hours on his computer daily, learning to hack into other computers as the web began to spread around the world.

Their son Daniel was born when Assanges girlfriend was 17, but it seems that even the arrival of a child was not enough to drag the fledgling-hacker away from his screen.

A year or two later, the couple moved to a rented house in Melbourne. It was there, in October 1991, that their relationship suffered a shattering blow after Assange was raided by the police.

He was caught red-handed with the tools of his burgeoning hackers trade - a 350 pounds Amiga 500 computer and more than a dozen discs filled with the access codes of websites.

Police also found details of hundreds of stolen passwords for networks around the world - along with the dates when he obtained them. Among them were passwords for the US Air Force 7th Command Group in the Pentagon.

He was charged with a number of offences relating to computer hacking. For the mother of his child, it was the final straw - she fled with the baby.

Though the couple had gone through what they described as an "unofficial marriage", Assange has remained deeply secretive about the mother of his child. The only time he has alluded to her was when he helped write a 1997 book called "Underground: Tales Of Hacking, Madness And Obsession On The Electronic Frontier".

In it, he describes his girlfriend as "an intelligent but introverted 16-year-old" whom he met through a friend. After she left him, he fell into a depression so severe that it led to him going in and out of a Melbourne hospital for six months.

After Assange separated from the mother of his child, the pair embarked on a nine-year custody battle over their son, which was not settled until 1999.

The agreement effectively meant that Daniels continued upbringing would be his mothers responsibility.

While little is known of Assanges activities in the years that followed, from 2003 to 2006 he studied physics and mathematics at Melbourne University before helping to set up WikiLeaks in 2006.

So where is the woman who perhaps knows Julian Assange better than any other?

"Shes done very well at keeping her identity a secret," says a former associate of the couple, who admitted that even he did not know who Assanges former lover really is.

"What we do know is that after leaving Julian she took up with someone else, married and had a new name."

Today, their son Daniel, who has been in hiding in Australia in recent weeks - works for a software design company.

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