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Wales: Children groomed for sex trafficking

Publish Date: 09 Nov 2004

By Madeleine Brindley

Children groomed for sex trafficking

CHILDREN in Wales are being enslaved into a sordid life of sexual exploitation and prostitution, experts warned today.

Adults are grooming and trafficking vulnerable children as young as 12 from Welsh care homes to work in massage parlours throughout South Wales.

The shocking trade is being fuelled by the internet, putting adults intent on fulfilling their depraved sexual desires and fantasies in physical contact with these exploited young children.

It is also thought that children of asylum seekers and refugees are being trafficked into Wales to work in the underground sex trade.

Children's charities and campaigners are demanding action to protect these children and prosecute the adults behind the sickening trade.

Peter Clarke, Wales' Children's Commissioner, said, "There are lots of euphemisms for working in massage parlours, but in the cases of these children we are taking about sexual abuse and rape.

"This is a pretty sordid and very disturbing state of affairs."

THE recent chilling television drama Sex Traffic opened our eyes to the shocking trade and abuse of women sold as sex slaves across Europe.

The story of Moldovan sisters Elena and Vara cast the spotlight on trafficking - the very modern form of slave-trading.

But while we may have finally started to wake up to the forced enslavement of countless young women, we are largely blind to the similarly shocking sexual exploitation of children and young people in Wales.

For the vast majority of us, trafficking is a distressing phenomenon that happens to women and children in the poor, warravaged states of eastern Europe, not on our own doorsteps.

And yet anecdotal evidence collated by children's charities in Wales would suggest that trafficked women and children are not only working in hidden brothels in Wales but that we have our own 'home grown' underground form of trafficking.

It is not known how many children are being sexually exploited in this way - Unicef estimates that there are 250 trafficked children in the UK are only the tip of the iceberg, according to Barnardo's Cymru.

But one thing is apparent to the charities and agencies working to protect such vulnerable and abused children - Wales is not doing enough to break-up this horrific underground sex trade in children as young as 12.

Peter Clarke, Wales' Children's Commissioner, who is part of an advisory group looking at the issue in Wales, said, there appear to be two sources for adults seeking to enslave children into a life of prostitution and sexual exploitation - children's care homes and, to a much lesser extent, the children of asylum seekers and refugees.

The evidence suggests that these children - both boys and girls - are being groomed to work as prostitutes in South Wales' network of massage parlours.

The adults behind this 'enterprise' are using money and drugs to trap these vulnerable youngsters into a life of sexual slavery.

Mr Clarke said, "We are concerned that the internet is being used as a means of establishing contact with those people who want to have sex with children and young people.

"We have anecdotal evidence that when there is pressure on places like massage parlours then places in rural Wales are being used for this contact to take place and the connections are being made via the internet.

"We are not doing enough about this problem - we are not being active enough in caring for young people who are in care to prevent this kind of thing happening.

"And we are not doing enough to find out when it is going on and bringing those people involved in it to justice. This is child abuse at the end of the day."

Yvonne Rodgers, assistant director of Barnardo’s Cymru, who also sits on the same advisory group, said although the charity has 13 services around the UK to help sexually exploited children, there are no specialist services in Wales.

But the geographical nature of Wales means charities have to be more creative with their approach to ensure it reaches those most at need.

"As a children's charity we are deeply concerned that the problem of sexual exploitation, prostitution and trafficking remains very much underground," she added.

"These children and young people deserve to be protected from harm, to enjoy good emotional, mental and physical health and to feel safe in their home and community.

"It is essential that organisations join forces to develop the services, policies and protocols needed to stamp out this problem in Wales to ensure children get the best possible chance of a happier future."

Social Work Action Day confronts exploitation

THE hidden problem of sexual exploitation and trafficking of women and children in Wales will be raised in the National Assembly today.

Welsh social workers and charities will host a special reception organised as part of Social Work Action Day.

Violence and trafficking was chosen as the subject of this year's Social Work Action Day, which is celebrated in 80 countries across Europe, because of the growing concern it is causing across the continent.

Charities will use the day to highlight the lack of direct services in Wales to tackle the underground problem head on.

Barnardo's work against the sexual exploitation of children and Voices from Care Cymru's work with young people who have been exploited while in the care system will be discussed at the reception today.

The NSPCC will also highlight its service for young men who are showing inappropriate behaviour as a result of being involved in domestic violence and NCH Cymru will discuss its counselling service which offers therapy to children and adults affected by sexual abuse and domestic violence during the event.

© Trinity Mirror Plc 2004; icWalesTM is a trade mark of Trinity Mirror Plc