Children for sale: UK's new slave trade

By David Harrison
Last Updated: 2:21AM GMT 29/01/2008

Hundreds of young children are being sold and "trafficked" to Britain from Africa to be exploited as modern-day slaves, it can be revealed.

Watch: David Harrison goes undercover to reveal illicit trade
'You can have my sons for £5,000 or one for £2,500'

The illicit trade in children - sold by their parents, some while still babies, to criminal gangs and people traffickers - has been uncovered by a Sunday Telegraph investigation. ... 1394183548

An undercover reporter was offered several children for sale by their parents in Nigeria: two boys aged three and five for £5,000, or £2,500 for one, and a 10-month-old baby for £2,000. Teenage girls - including some still pregnant - were willing to sell their babies for less than £1,000.

One international trafficker, tracked down in Lagos, claimed to be buying up to 500 children a year.

Impoverished African parents are being lured by the traffickers' promises of "a better life" for their children, thousands of miles 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 pounds 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 called last night for the Government and the police to 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".

But David Davis, the Conservative shadow home secretary, said: "The Government has utterly failed to take decisive action to tackle human trafficking.

"A Conservative government would take a range of practical measures - developed in detail over the last two years - to curb all aspects of this evil trade, which threatens Britain and the most vulnerable in our society."

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 to 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 Sunday Telegraph can reveal how the trade starts more than three thousand miles away in Africa where babies are sold to predatory traffickers, able to persuade desperately poor and often illiterate parents to hand over their children. The children are then sold, at high profit, as "home helps" to African families in Britain and in other European and North American cities.

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

Many of the young 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.

This man says he makes up to £6,000 a week selling babies and children abroad

A growing number of the African slave children arrives 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 entitled to 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."

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. Those that come to the attention of the authorities when they commit a crime or go to social services for help are usually brusquely deported as illegal immigrants.

The Government will unveil new measures next month aimed at giving more protection to victims of child trafficking.

Mr Coaker said: "We have tightened our visa requirements and our ports of entry and we are gathering intelligence to help us stop this horrific trade."

A senior Scotland Yard officer said: "The traffickers and the people who buy the children and use them as domestic slaves have no regard for their wellbeing and we are determined to catch those involved in this vile business.

"But 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, admitted 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."

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