Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Child protection: you're doing it wrong

A very disturbing case of child trafficking has been in the news recently. It seems that since March 2006, 77 Chinese children have gone missing from a children's home in London, and only four have been found:
Organised criminal gangs have exploited a children's home beside Heathrow airport for the systematic trafficking of Chinese children to work in prostitution and the drugs trade across Britain, a secret immigration document reveals.


Only four have been found. Two girls returned after a year of exploitation in brothels in the Midlands. One was pregnant while the other had been surgically fitted with a contraceptive device in her arm. Others are coerced with physical threats to work as street-sellers of counterfeit goods. It is thought that many work in cannabis farms.

The document reveals that the children are "absconding" at the facilitation of organized crime groups, and when a spokesperson for the home was interviewed on the news recently, he was very quick to point out that the care facility cannot restrict the movements of children, implying that if they want to leave to get involved in prostitution and other nefarious activities, then no one can stop them.

I don't even know where to begin with this one. If, as the news report suggests, these children are taken into care after they have arrived at Heathrow airport having already been initiated into a trafficking ring, the fact is that at the moment the local authority places them with this children's home, it is responsible for their safety; unless the UK government has now turned to state-sanctioned pimping. If these were British children who had been taken from neglectful parents, and had then ended up in the hands of traffickers, all of the UK would be in an uproar. But somehow, we seem to have no problem acting as holdover facilities for Chinese children being sold into prostitution and child slavery. And after these children are taken to this home, how is it that they have the means to subsequently arrange with the traffickers to meet them at pre-designated locations? And why in great googly-moogly, after seeing a trend of flight from this particular institution next to Heathrow, do the authorities still take children fitting this particular profile to this same home, facilitating the traffickers' access? If they do intend to process them through the system and get to the bottom of their unescorted arrival to the UK, why not undertake reasonable measures to see that they are removed from immediate danger?

I'll tell you what it looks like. And you might gasp, choke and splutter at the implication but feel free because here it comes anyway: they can't be arsed. These are Chinese children who as far as they are concerned have already become involved in a system of trafficking, and if they disappear just as easily and as suddenly as they show up, well then so be it. They aren't British. Let someone else deal with them. The very idea that an official from or representing this home would get on the news and suggest that they don't lock the doors so the children can leave to be sold into prostitution if they want is the part that is gasp-worthy. There is no agency here. Would you jump through a window to run headlong into a life of unpaid or underpaid harrowing physical labour if you had the choice? If you didn't feel threatened or coerced or desperate? If you are going to take the step, as a government agency, to 'clean up' the sidewalks outside Heathrow by clearing these wandering children from it, then you are also responsible for taking every reasonable precaution to protect them from threats that you know exist.

As if there weren't enough evidence of buck-passing, Julian Worcester, the deputy director of Children's Services, had this to say:
"There is still a large proportion who go missing but the total numbers are going down," said Worcester. "As a result of coordinated action, Heathrow is now seen as a more difficult airport to traffic people through. We think some of the activity has been displaced to other airports, in particular Stansted in Essex and Manchester."

Ah well that's much better, then. Keep all that nasty trafficking business away from the tourist hubs.

The UK government is at the moment struggling with providing adequate protection for children who merit social care attention. Cases such as the one involving Baby P are strewn all over the news and rightly inspire public outrage that is very slow in dissipating. The lives of these 73 children who have disappeared from this home aren't worth any less than they would be if they had been born here. But it seems the authorities don't see it that way.


  1. But...but...but...their eyes aren't blue, and their hair's all black, and their skin's not quite pale and sunburnable - how could the public possibly be expected to identify with and care about these children? It'd be like asking people to recognize that Chinese people could be...human?

    ZOMG, no, you go too far. Everyone knows that "people" means "humans with pale enough skin and no features varying from the default and inherently superior white folk!"

    It's actually rather sickening. Is there a particular minister that this expat should be writing a letter to? I'd like to make it clear that at least some of us are more morally advanced than the hideous Duck of Edinburgh...

  2. Cait, great idea for civic action. The House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee is meant to be carrying out an inquiry into such incidences of trafficking. You can email its Chairman Keith Vaz at

    Or you may choose to write the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, at

  3. Thank you, I did. I'm also going to point Shakesville over here, because I think this is one that some teaspoons might just be helpful for. I've just finished writing to both your suggested addresses, respectfully but firmly drawing their eyes to the problem and asking that they do something about this great shame.

  4. Mongoose I think its so wonderful that the strength of the issues you choose and the intellectual, passionate conviction with which you write about them spurs people on to civic action. Keep on keepin' on.


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