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UK: Child slaves

Publish Date: 06 Jul 2004

Source: The Express on Sunday

Welcome to Heathrow, would all child slaves please go to Customs now. . .

YOUNG "asylum seekers" tricked into seeking a better life in Britain are ending up as domestic slaves or victims of the child sex trade.

Hundreds of children are arriving in British ports each week, seeking refuge from poverty or war-torn streets.

But the Sunday Express can reveal that many are slipping into the country undetected and simply disappearing into a life of domestic servitude where child slavery is viewed as acceptable.

Police are also convinced that Britain has become a "transit country" for the child sex trade in other European states.

One girl who disappeared was a 12-year-old from Afghanistan who was married at eight and "trafficked" through Heathrow airport to be reunited with her husband.

Child protection officers are trying to trace the girl, who arrived on a flight from Kenya along with a boy aged 10 and a girl of nine who was picked up in the airport - where 130 lone children arrive each week - and is now in the care of social services.

Although the majority of the child refugees travel for legitimate reasons, thousands are ending up in care or, far worse, as child slaves. Others are handed over to adults who are loosely described as relatives, but are often not blood relations, to obtain better accommodation and benefits.

The sophisticated gangs running the international traffic in children are so organised that they often do "dummy runs" before the real thing. They link up with a "sponsor" in Britain who will have supported the child's visa application.

Scotland Yard was so concerned over the numbers of unaccompanied children turning up every day at Heathrow that it posted a full-time child protection officer there.

And Detective Constable Barry Jones has been so successful that the traffickers have turned to other ports. One recent success saw two gang members arrested as they attempted to return home after dropping off three children.

"I think the Met has been very brave in lifting the lid on this, " said Det Con Jones. "It is a can of worms, and they could have easily have walked away, but they chose not to let it go. I think it is imperative that other police force areas seriously consider the position of their ports.

"Some of the children are undoubtedly being schooled, some for weeks if not months. A reoccuring theme is that many are being coached in various churches in West Africa before travelling to the UK.

"They are taught when to use the word 'asylum.' From my experience the majority are coming in for a better life. All of the children are different, many of them don't even know what country they are in.

Many can't speak the language and many have been so well coached that they refuse to speak."

Alarm bells began to ring in Oxford when a constant stream of lone children began turning up in streets close to the main social services building.

Investigations revealed that they had been purposely dumped there after being trafficked through Heathrow for no apparent reason.

To the trafficker each child is worth thousands of pounds, but once he or she has changed hands and the deal is done they are worth nothing and are discarded on the streets like pieces of rubbish.

Police and child welfare groups are now calling for a national strategy to combat the growing problem.

The Government is also looking at appointing a minister with responsibility for child trafficking. They would also like more pressure on airlines to educate cabin crews into alerting the authorities if they suspect a child is being trafficked.

However, this is a solution which is unrealistic unless the Government scraps the GBP3,000 fine airlines are liable for. David Bull, executive director of Unicef UK, said: "The trafficking of children is a massive violation of human rights.

"There needs to be top-level leadership and direction concerning trafficking of children into and through the UK. We need a multi-agency and multi-ministerial national strategy that can involve all the key players."

A UNICEF report last year claimed that between 8,000 and 10,000 children in the UK are privately fostered and that many of these could be abused or exploited. Innocent parents hoping to give their child a better life in Britain will pay GBP3,000 to an agent to plan the child's passage.

Often the children are coached in how to claim asylum. Many are girls who are lured to Britain with the promise of a good education, only to be forced into a life of domestic exploitation.

Scotland Yard has conducted the first study in the world, in conjunction with immigration, social services and the NSPCC, into child migration. The biggest downfall of the study was that it was only able to focus on one port of entry to the UK and on nonEU passport holders.

Operation Paladin Child was partly prompted by the influx of children going into the care of Hillingdon council social services, which covers Heathrow. They are caring for more than 600 children.

Unaccompanied children immediately become the responsibility of the local authority where they enter the UK and a recent court ruling means they now have to look after young immigrants until they reach 24 years of age. In Kent, the area with the highest number of asylum seeking youngsters because of Dover, the cost is currently running at over GBP30 million a year.

Operation Paladin Child, for which DC Barry Jones began work in October 2002, resulted in 26 recommendations including the need for a national strategy. The report is presently being reviewed by the Home Office.

Dc Jones, 58, could have retired long ago but insists he has the most rewarding job in the Met.

He is assisted by eight specially trained immigration officers, dubbed the "minors team" who have undergone police child protection training.

A further 600 frontline immigration officers are receiving basic training in how to speak to children.

On average Dc Jones is called to five to 10 incidents a day, many more are dealt with directly by the immigration service.

Operation Paladin Child follows high-profile tragic cases such as that of eight-year-old Victoria Climbie and the Adam torso found in the Thames. Victoria's parents sent her from the Ivory Coast to Britain in 1999 entrusting her in the care of a greataunt in the hope she would have a better future. But she was murdered after a horrific year of abuse.

Victoria's parents have since been shown around the the new child migration unit at Heathrow. Victoria arrived through France on an EU passport.Head of child protection, Detective Chief Superintendent Peter Spindler, said: "We are still aware of the scale of unaccompanied minors coming into the UK through the European channels. Immigration officers currently only have limited powers to screen European passport holders arriving into the UK." He added: "We have made a start, but we don't claim to have dealt with the problem, we have got a lot of catching up to do."

Other past cases include the "torso killing" in September 2001, which was linked to voodoo after the victim was found to have been killed in a ritual ceremony. Detectives who named the unidentified boy Adam, discovered he was from Nigeria.

Debbie Ariyo. of Africans Against Child Abuse. said: "We know that a lot of Nigerian children in particular are being brought into the UK for sexual exploitation and onward trafficking to other European countries.

"The trafficking issue has taken everyone by surprise. Within 10 years it's escalated into a major international problem."

Teenager's journey to be with 'fiance'

WEARY after her journey, Mary slumps in a seat waiting to be met by her fiance after travelling thousands of miles to be with him.It all seems innocent enough.

Except that this beautiful 18-yearold American with long flowing hair has arrived for a three-week stay in Britain and has only GBP6 to her name. An immigration official smells a rat. He starts asking questions.

Mary - not her real name - reveals that her fiance is a 51-yearold father-of-two, with whom she began a relationship two and a half years ago on the Internet when she was just 16.

She and Clive - not his real name - have met only once before. That was in America, and under the watchful eye of her mother.

The girl is asked to wait in the immigration arrivals lounge while further checks are carried out on her fiance.

The chief immigration officer, who works in a raised glass office known as the Watchtower, calls on a child protection officer, Detective Constable Barry Jones, for assistance.

Mary is no longer a child, but she could still be vulnerable and her safety is of paramount concern to Barry, as he explains, while checking her story.Having travelled for 48 hours, she is clearly emotional and apologises for crying - explaining that she is tired.

She tells Barry that she met Clive, who has a son only a year younger than her, through an AOL search engine. Her Internet name, she tells him, is religious and means "Christ".

Fiddling nervously with the crucifix around her neck, Mary tells Barry that her mother has reluctantly accepted her wish to visit Clive alone.However, her father is against the relationship and has said he would "like to kill him".

Barry then speaks to Clive, a short stocky man with thinning grey hair wearing a diamond-studded crucifix in his ear.

He also begins to cry, as he tells the police officer that his intentions are honourable, that they mean to wed in October and plans a day's sightseeing with a romantic trip on the London Eye. . .

You cannot help feeling that Mary is much too young and naive to marry a man 33 years older than her, that this transatlantic relationship is doomed but to an immigration officer, that is just an ethical dilemma and not a reason for refusing entry.

Clive passes the checks. Barry calls Mary's mother, to make sure that she knows about the arrangements.

He checks on Mary's return flight, to make sure that she can get home, warns her to keep safe - and suggests mother and daughter make daily contact.

There is nothing more Barry or the immigration service can do.

Mary's passport is reluctantly stamped. And she is allowed in.

Boy bought by pervert

A LITTLE African boy who flew to Heathrow believing he was being met by his adoptive British family was sold to a paedophile.

This is just one of the shocking tales uncovered by ECPAT (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes).

Yusuf (not his real name) was thrown on to the streets as a child by his family in the Horn of Africa and had to make a living by running errands for strangers.

When he was 13, he met a man who said he would help him and send him to school. The man insisted on taking a picture of Yusuf naked from the waist up.

He later returned to tell him that he had found a family abroad to adopt him.

They flew to Heathrow and were met at the airport by a middle-aged white man. The two men knew each other and the boy was taken to the white man's house.

The trafficker even raised the boy's hopes by saying that the white man would become Yusuf 's father.

Very early in the enforced relationship, the man asked Yusuf to sleep with him and, thinking he was merely being affectionate, Yusuf shared his bed. Gradually, however, the man started to abuse Yusuf and the abuse continued for the whole time Yusuf was there.

After a month, Yusuf ran away and found himself at a train station. Then, as now, he spoke very little English and spent all day frantically looking for someone who might possibly understand him.

Finally, a man asked him if something was wrong and Yusuf was able to ask for help.

The man took Yusuf to an organisation that could help him. Yusuf is now being looked after by social services and has been granted leave to remain in the country.

There have since been attempts by the police to investigate the case but, because of Yusuf 's inability to speak English and his lack of knowledge of the country, it has been difficult because he didn't know the location of the flat where the abuser lived.

© 2004 The Express on Sunday