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Thursday, 29 November, 2001, 15:50 GMT
Child sex traffickers free to trade
Arrivals board at Gatwick
Children given asylum in the UK are disappearing
Human rights campaigners claim that the trafficking of children through British airports for use in the European sex industry is on the increase, and, as Angus Crawford reports, English law, as it stands, is unable to prevent it.

The first girl went missing in 1995. She had arrived at Gatwick from West Africa, claimed asylum and was taken into care by social services in West Sussex. She then vanished.

65 more were to follow. Experts say this represents a tiny fraction of the true figure.

Worthing beach
Traffickers are operating in Worthing
Social services set up safe houses and round-the-clock monitoring, but some girls were kidnapped off the street, others went voluntarily into the hands of gangs. From there they were taken to Italy for use as prostitutes, travelling via London and Brussels.

Voodoo

It is thought most of the girls were recruited in Nigeria. Many were forced to undergo a terrifying voodoo ritual and told they would be killed if they did not obey the traffickers. Arriving in the UK they faced a massive debt to the gangs and the fear that if they ran away their families would become targets.


There is no law against trafficking in the UK

Elaine Pearson
"There is no law against trafficking in the UK," states Elaine Pearson of campaign group Anti-Slavery International, "the routes are manipulated very much by traffickers according to countries that have effective laws and those that don't...the problem is only going to get worse if we don't have effective laws.

"A new international treaty was passed last year and a directive proposed that all EU states should introduce legislation, but again the UK is one of those that has not done so."

The UK government is apparently committed to such legislation, but she fears that it may not happen until 2003 at the earliest. The government stands accused of dragging its feet on the issue.

No conviction

Detective Superintendent David Gaylor
Police cannot prosecute traffickers
"It is frustrating" admits Detective Superintendent David Gaylor from Sussex police. "From the evidence we had, we were happy that the people we had arrested were heavily involved in the trafficking of girls."

And yet after five years of investigation nobody has been brought to trial. The last time a file was sent to the Crown Prosecution Service, officials sent it back saying there was no chance of a conviction.

Det Supt Gaylor believes that those involved are still trafficking: "And...as and when suitable legislation is introduced...we'll be back after them again."

Karen Somerset from ECPAT (End Child Prostitution, Pornography and Trafficking) is critical of the screening in place at the moment: "We are very concerned that at other airports like Heathrow, people are not actually looking at the children coming through" she says.

West Sussex is the only authority doing work in this area, and so is the only place with accurate figures. The nationwide scale of the problem is not known.

Elizabeth Little helped to pioneer the system in West Sussex and now, as executive director of the refugee arrivals project near Heathrow, travels the country trying to galvanise other agencies into action.


There is a general feeling that they don't know about it

Elizabeth Little
"There is a general feeling that they don't know about it...and therefore, whilst it may exist, they believe there is nothing they can work on at the present time" she says.

"It is essential, if we want to beat the traffickers, that we work together." However, she is doubtful that enough is being done elsewhere in the country.


PM contacted the Home Office for a comment on the issues raised by these interviews and was given the following statement (sic):

HOME OFFICE STATEMENT FOR THE PM PROGRAMME

The Government is committed to putting in place effective measures to combat the trafficking in human beings and to penalise those engaged in this abhorrent practice. To this end, the United Kingdom has signed the Trafficking Protocol to the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organised Crime, which requires the specific criminalisation of trafficking in human beings.

At the European Union level, the government has reached provisional agreement on the text of a European Union Framework Decision on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings. The draft framework decision will require member states to adopt a common definition of trafficking in human beings for the purposes of sexual or labour exploitation, to criminalise the defined behaviour and to impose common minimum maximum penalties.

Last year we set up Project REFLEX, which is a multi-agency task force chaired by the National Crime Squad designed to co-ordinate anti-trafficking operations and develop the intelligence and strategic planning to underpin them. Project REFLEX comprises the National Criminal Intelligence Service, the Immigration Service, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Intelligence and Security Agencies, the Metropolitan Police and the British Transport Police. It is now well established and operations involving partners overseas have resulted in some major successes and arrests.

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