January 08, 2008

Behind Closed Doors

Over the past week I have been asking everyone I know one question. What is child trafficking? Everyone knew it was illegal, few actually knew why it was illegal and ashamed as I am to say it a few even said they weren't interested! The lack of interest rightly or wrongly mainly stemmed from the image they had of illegal trafficking.

The UK media rarely touches on the true picture of trafficking, preferring to distort the facts into acts of illegal immigration. Until recently our Government didn't accept its existence here.We care too much about children to allow it to happen here (Oh yes Mr, Minister). We hear stories now and again, stories too big to be ignored, of bodies being found in freight containers and container lorries. Immigrants being brought illegally into the country for vast sums of money, only to end up starved of oxygen and no way of identifying them. What we don't hear is the truth or the scale of it.

If I am honest I didn't have a clue about child trafficking and how it goes disguised in the UK until Feb 2000. Victoria ClimbiƩ was 8years old when she came to the media attention. malnourishment, 128 separate injuries, 'It was the worst case of deliberate harm to a child' pathologist Dr Nathaniel Carey said he had ever seen.
As the details of Victoria's short and tragic life emerged a world I didn't know existed opened up. Victoria had been born 1991 in the Ivory Coast. She was the fifth of seven children, had started school at six and showed great promise. In 1998 a visiting relative offered to take Victoria back to France with her on the promise of a good education and a better future. Victoria's parents agreed to the idea and sent her off believing their daughter would have a wonderful life. It was not uncommon for families in the Ivory Coast to send children to relatives abroad for education and financial reasons.
At the time I thought it was far fetched to be expected to believe that it was an accepted and common practice for parents to willingly and happily send a child halfway around the world to live with a distant relative. I now know different. From the late 1950's the UK saw a heavy flow of welcome immigrants from Africa and the West Indies. Enticed here with promises of a better life and jobs. The UK had it's own agenda if the truth be known. Cheap labour for the worst manual jobs. Many of the Nigerians to settle here did the unexpected and instead of the manual labour jobs they sought careers and enriched the middle class communities. Extending their fortune and chance of education and opportunities to relatives from their home land was a natural progression within families.

Of course not all stories where success stories, and the economic decline in the later 1970's brought hardship and increased exploitation. For some bringing a child relative here under the pretence of providing a better life was the meal ticket that they needed. Distance prevented the child's family from knowing the truth and far from a better life many children became nothing more than slaves, neglected and abused but a source of welfare benefits for the family.
It is not known whether Victoria's Aunt initial intentions where genuine. She was enrolled into a school in France on first leaving the Ivory Coast but what ever the initial intention things changed when she arrived in the UK with her Aunt.

Victoria was brought to the attention of Child protection and social services on numerous occasions before her death but no one ever questioned why or how she came to be in the care of her Aunt or about her family in the Ivory Coast. Victoria was not enrolled in school for most of her time here yet that also was not questioned. Victoria's life could and should have been saved. The laws put in place to protect children were ignored by every official to come into contact with Victoria. A situation like this 'should never' happen again it was said (oh yes Mr. Minister).

It is still happening here in the UK but it isn't child trafficking! it is illegal immigrants (Oh yes Mr. Minister). Once these children have passed the age to be eligible for child benefits and cannot get jobs due to lack of education and often social isolation they are discarded. Entering the country as EU citizens, no immigration record of their arrival exists and of course they have no identifying documents. It doesn't take long living on the streets to court the attention of the authorities and for a whole new nightmare to begin. Their stories are seldom believed and they are treated like criminals.

This is the UK. This is the TRUTH. Forget the cargo containers and lorries. Children who are victims of this very real and illegal trade are inside houses, behind closed doors and very much in the UK.

The Victoria Climbie inquiry can be found on this link: http://www.victoria-climbie-inquiry.org.uk/finreport/finreport.htm

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