News 2008


African babies being sold into slavery in UK for up to $10,000

The EastAfrican


Special Correspondent

11. 02. 2008

An estimated 500 African children a year — many of them babies — are being trafficked into the UK where they end up working as virtual slaves, a new investigation has revealed.

The children sold by their poor parents for up to $10,000 come mainly from West Africa, but there have been reports of children from other parts of the continent sold into the UK.

An undercover reporter working for the Daily Telegraph newspaper was offered several children for sale by their parents in Nigeria: Two boys aged three and five for $10,000, or $5,000 for one, and a 10-month-old baby for $4,000.

Teenage girls — including some still pregnant — were willing to sell their babies for less than $2,000.

The Telegraph report said that “impoverished African parents are being lured by the traffickers’ promises of ‘a better life’ for their children, thousands of kilometres away in cities including London, Birmingham and Manchester. But, once brought to Britain, the children are used as a fraudulent means to obtain illicit housing and other welfare benefits, totalling tens of thousands of dollars each a year.

“From the age of seven, rather than being sent to school, they are exploited as domestic slaves, forced to work for up to 18 hours a day, cleaning, cooking and looking after other younger children, or put to work in restaurants and shops. Some of the children are also subjected to physical and sexual abuse, while others even find themselves accused of being witches and become victims of exorcism rites in ‘traditional’ African churches in Britain.”

Campaigners have now demanded that the UK government and police take “urgent action” to end this “21st century child slavery.”

“These children are being abused under our noses in our own country,” said Chris Beddoe, the director of End Child Prostitution and Trafficking, a British-based coalition of international charities. “It is totally unacceptable. We need urgent action to identify these children as they enter the UK, find those who are being abused and offer proper protection to those who escape or are freed from their abusers.”

Vernon Coaker, the Home Office minister responsible for the prevention of trafficking, described child traffickers as “evil” and said anybody who could buy and sell babies was “sick.”

“We have tightened our visa requirements and our ports of entry and we are gathering intelligence to help us stop this horrific trade,” he said.

The opposition Conservative party, however, says the problem has been well known for some time. David Davis, the Conservative shadow home secretary, said: “The government has utterly failed to take decisive action to tackle human trafficking. “

A recent survey by the government’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre claimed that 330 children, including 14 aged under 12, many of them from Africa, had been trafficked into Britain over the past year.

The police and campaigners believe, however, that this is just the “tip of the iceberg” and that the true figure is likely to be in the thousands.

The traffickers are understood to use a network of corrupt officials and co-traffickers to obtain passports and visas, often giving the children new names.

Many of the victims are flown directly from Lagos in Nigeria to London’s airports.

Others are taken, via other West African states such as Ghana and Benin, to “transit” cities, including Paris. A growing number of the African slave children arrive in Britain unaccompanied, as asylum-seekers, or with “private foster parents.”

Debbie Ariyo, the executive director of the London-based charity Africans Unite Against Child Abuse, said: “This trade is a disgrace. These children are not going to loving homes.

“They are being cynically used by adults as slave labour and to defraud the state and then when they get older and have served their purpose and no longer attract benefits, they are thrown out on to the streets with no papers even to prove who they are. These are damaged, traumatised children and we have to end this misery.”

The campaigners said that many of the slave children — psychologically and often physically damaged at 18 — were thrown out of the houses of their “owners.” They are left to fend for themselves, usually with no papers or documents to prove who they are. With nowhere to turn, many fall into crime and the sex trade.

The end result is that many then go on to commit a crime or go to social services for help and are then usually brusquely deported as illegal immigrants.

A senior Scotland Yard officer said that part of the problem was that “this is a hidden crime, going on largely in Britain’s African communities and we would urge people in those communities to contact us if they suspect that any child in their area is being abused. We need their co-operation. They must not turn a blind eye.”

Godwin Morka, the executive director of Lagos’s anti-trafficking unit, Nathip, told the Telegraph that child trafficking was “rampant” in many Nigerian states. “We know these children are not going to happy homes and we are doing what we can on limited resources.”