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Marking Anti-Slavery Day 2011

Posted: 17/10/11 01:00

1807 is the date that is commemorated as the year in which Wilberforce's campaign to abolish slavery succeeded, with the passing of The Slave Trade Act 1807. But it was not until 1833 that the Abolition of Slavery Act was passed - Wilberforce died just three days after. His public work and tireless campaigning on this issue of profound importance was done.

Yet - almost 180 years after slavery was abolished - there is one form of trade that is still thriving in austerity Britain: the modern-day slavery that is the trafficking of human beings.

October 18th marks the UK's second Anti-Slavery Day in an attempt to raise awareness of this heinous and hidden crime.

The sheer number of children being brought illegally into the country is deeply concerning. Figures from the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre show an average of 300 children are trafficked into the UK per year. But it is the purposes for which they are brought that cause the most alarm. These include sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, benefit fraud, cannabis farming, street begging, theft and shoplifting. And a recent and sinister BBC report suggested at least 400 African children have been abducted and trafficked to the UK in the last four years, allegedly for witchcraft purposes.

Children identified as victims of trafficking in the UK are taken into local authority care, but as The Observer reported earlier this year, a disturbing number of these children simply go missing - often permanently, with many falling into the clutches of their abusers again.

That's why ECPAT UK has been working alongside The Body Shop (and indeed politicians from all parties) to campaign for the Government to establish a proper system of guardianship for the children who are victims of this appalling crime - delivering a 730,000-strong petition on the issue to Downing Street in May.

A guardian appointed to every victim would ensure that they get the right care, accommodation, education, healthcare and language support, and of particular importance, that the child has access to legal representation. This proposal is backed by the UN, and the UK Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. It is also a requirement of Article 16 of the new EU Directive on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Human Beings and Protecting Victims, which the Coalition finally agreed to opt-in to in March.

Sadly, Ministers disagree - repeatedly arguing that Section 11 of the 2004 Children Act gives local authorities a statutory duty to ensure that they safeguard and promote the welfare of all children. Yet, this duty clearly isn't working, and how would Ministers know anyway? The Children's Minister Tim Loughton recently indicated in answer to a parliamentary question that the Government has no records of how many child trafficking victims are currently in care, or how many may have gone missing.

A proper system of guardianship would also help to increase the dismally low prosecution rate for trafficking offences against children - providing victims with the support they need through the prosecution process. But, the Attorney General - responsible for the CPS - made it quite clear in the Commons recently that the matter was outside of his remit. More worryingly, the CPS appears unable to track its own progress on the issue as it has admitted it 'has no records to identify how many prosecutions and convictions there have been of cases involving allegations of trafficking children'.

Despite the Government's attempts to take human trafficking seriously, all of this displays a worrying lack of joined-up thinking on the issue. What better way for Ministers to demonstrate they really are serious about tackling this growing problem - and indeed to mark Anti-Slavery Day 2011 - than to agree to establish a proper system of guardianship for child trafficking victims? It would not only change the lives of those vulnerable children, but also ensure that Wilberforce can rest in peace.

 

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