Children smuggled into the United Kingdom for sex abuse and slavery
Most victims become prostitutes or servants. Violence used to control and break in youngsters.
by Paul Lewis, Thursday June 12, 2007 The Guardian
The trade in hundreds of children smuggled into the UK for sexual exploitation, drug smuggling, under-age marriage, street crime and domestic slavery was exposed last night in a government report. The Home Office-commissioned survey identifies 330 cases of suspected or confirmed victims of trafficking - most of them from China or from Africa - but warns of an unknown quantity that have not come, as yet, to the attention of the authorities.
Organized gangs, including some highly sophisticated criminal syndicates, are profiting from trafficking children as young as nine months old into the country. In the case of African victims, the traffickers have been identified as white British nationals. The report which was produced by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) centre reveals:
- Concern over the safety of trafficked children placed in the care of local authorities. Over half of those in the study have gone missing, amid fears that some have returned to their captors;
- Most of the victims are girls and most likely to enter the country through airports to supply the underground sex trade or to work as domestic servants;
- With controls tightening at Heathrow, Gatwick and Dover, traffickers are choosing smaller entry points such as Prestwick, Belfast, Doncaster, Stansted, Hull and Gravesend;
- Physical and sexual violence is often used to control and break in the victims, with children gang raped, beaten and burned with cigarettes;
- Albanian, Chinese and Vietnamese trafficking gangs are the most organized and are linked to criminal networks involved in drug production, identity fraud, money laundering and the sex trade.
The report coincided with the publication of CEOP's first annual review. Several government agencies in hot spot areas - large cities or ports and airports - failed to supply data about trafficked children in their area and the report admits the figures are heavily under represented. The Home Office Minister, Vernon Coker, said: "We're determined to find out the nature and scale of the problem. We're not going to shy away from this report - we'll learn from it and take it forward."
While most of the cases identified concern children aged between 14 and 17, there are fears that the illicit import of much younger children is going undetected. As well as a 9-month old baby, the report documents the cases of a 3-year old, two 4-year olds and eight children aged between 5 and 12, some of whom could have been brought in by adults masquerading as their parents. The report finds that victims have often lived destitute lives in their countries of origin, particularly those from Africa smuggled into Britain to work as domestic slaves or in the underground sex trade. These children describe their previous life in terms of war, abject and relative poverty, years of physical and sexual abuse, miscarried abortions, prison, witnessing murders, neglect and a desire to escape. Some of the girls believed they were being rescued from their destitution and still refer to their captors who brought them into the UK as their 'rescuers'.
Eastern European trafficking victims - particularly girls - are seen as easier to smuggle than other nationalities because their EU passports are not checked as thoroughly.
The report recommends developing a national intelligence picture of the nature and scale of trafficking in the UK. It advocates the establishment of a dedicated unit for gathering information on the problem as a matter of priority; and, the use of biometric data to help track children.