Saturday, June 03, 2006

Hundreds of child slaves sold into UK every year

Pictured Above Indian Flower Selling Girl

Children as young as six are being brought to Britain in their hundreds every year to be used as "slave labour" in sweatshops, private homes and cannabis factories.

The children are transported from all over Africa, Asia and eastern Europe by ruthless and highly organised gangs of traffickers.

Many are taken with the unwitting consent of their parents, who pay up to £3,000, believing the traffickers' claims that their children are going to a better life - and will be able to send money home.

The victims are smuggled into Britain or brought in on false passports by adults posing as relatives. They are put to work immediately, live in appalling conditions and are subjected to physical and sexual abuse.

The scale of the crisis - which has spread from London to Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle - is revealed in a consultation paper presented to the Home Office by a coalition of nine charities including Unicef, Save the Children and the NSPCC.

Last night, the charities accused the Government of failing to tackle the problem and called for urgent action to end the "cruel and shocking exploitation of children". Christine Beddoe, the director of the coalition - called End Child Prostitution, Pornography and Trafficking (ECPAT) - said: "This is modern child slavery." Another senior charity official described the traffickers as "21st-century Fagins - only much crueller", a reference to the character who ran teams of child pickpockets in Charles Dickens's Oliver Twist.

In the consultation document, passed to The Sunday Telegraph, the charities say there are "no specific support services" for victims of child trafficking and they accuse the Government of using "an unsympathetic and punitive asylum process" to treat them as illegal immigrants rather than victims.

Most trafficked children who come to the authorities' attention are deported immediately, they argue, and then face persecution and re-trafficking. The charities want the Government to introduce measures to help police, immigration officials and social workers to identify, rescue and protect them.

Children from China, Vietnam and Malaysia, have been found in sweatshops, restaurants and suburban cannabis factories. African children are often put into domestic servitude, working long hours for little or no reward.

Eastern European children tend to be used to beg and steal - and many more are likely to arrive next year when Romania and Bulgaria are expected to join the European Union.

Charities and police believe most trafficked children are used for slave labour rather than prostitution, but the report says they are "sexually exploited in informal locations, such as private flats, where they are expected to have sex with groups of men".

ECPAT calls for a national strategy, including safe houses for victims, counselling and legal and medical support, and an independent Child Trafficking Rapporteur. It urges the Government to ratify the European Convention against Trafficking in Human Beings to allow victims to stay in the UK to recover from their ordeal and receive help so they can testify against the traffickers.

Ms Beddoe estimated that "hundreds" of children were trafficked to Britain each year but said the true figure could be much higher. The ECPAT research has identified suspected victims in all but one of 33 London boroughs. The charities are also investigating child trafficking in Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle.

Police said there was a "pressing need" for a national strategy. A senior Scotland Yard detective said: "It is hard to believe that there are child slaves in Britain in the 21st century but we are determined to end this appalling practice."

The Home Office will report on the consultation at the end of this month and will publish an action plan in the autumn.

A spokesman said: "We are already taking steps to stamp it out and the action plan will help us to end the children's misery."

By David Harrison

Source: The SundayTelegraph
Also See:
Revealed: The gangs busing sex slaves between towns
UN chief praises our sex trafficking exposé
Traffickers face action to curb sex trade

ECPAT UK website

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