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The BBC's Sanchia Berg
"Young boys and girls are often used as household slaves"
 real 28k

Minister for Children's Services, John Hutton
"We need to do a systematic root and branch reform"
 real 28k

Monday, 15 January, 2001, 11:11 GMT
Fears for African foster children
Anna Climbie suffered months of abuse at the hands of Kouao and Manning
Anna suffered months of abuse from Kouao and Manning
Charities are growing concerned that an African tradition of sending children to distant foster parents may be increasingly open to abuse.

The practice has come under increasing scrutiny since the murder of eight-year-old Anna Climbie by her great-aunt and the woman's boyfriend.

After details emerged in court of the "unimaginable abuse" meted out to Anna, who had been brought from the Ivory Coast, the UK Government was urged to appoint a children's commissioner.

Childline chairwoman Esther Rantzen
Esther Rantzen backs child commissioner

It is believed that some children, brought to Europe far from their parents, are treated as "household slaves" and are beaten and sometimes even tortured.

It is a fear that strikes a chord with the campaigning television presenter Esther Rantzen, chairwoman of the Childline telephone counselling charity.

She said: "We have been urging the government for years to appoint a commissioner or minister for children."

"It is not just those cases of terrible abuse which highlight the need.

"Only the appointment of a minister specifically for children will focus attention on our greatest asset, our children."

The fact that the powers set out in the Care Standards Act are already being expanded by the government demonstrates the need for a commissioner with robust powers to monitor the child protection system

Paul Burstow
Liberal Democrat health spokesman

BBC Radio 4 Today reporter Sanchia Berg said one organisation in France thinks there are hundreds and possibly thousands of children abused in this way.

Some cases, such as that of Anna, have been uncovered in the UK, but community groups fear many more are waiting to be discovered as the children are often locked away.

The concerns come as the Liberal Democrats press the government to follow the example set by the Welsh Assembly in appointing a commissioner whose remit would stand outside the child protection system.

The call echoes that already made by the NSPCC for an independent commissioner and a comprehensive review of the UK's child protection procedures covering issues outside the case of Anna, who died from hypothermia in February.

Children's charities supportive

The creation of a children's commissioner for England, Scotland and Northern Ireland has also backed children's charities.

The killing of Anna, who had been brought from the Ivory Coast, by great-aunt Marie Therese Kouao, 44, and Carl Manning, 28, from Tottenham, north London, shocked the nation.

Kouao and Manning had repeatedly beaten the girl, bound her hand and foot, placed her naked in a cold bath and fed her on scraps of food which she was forced to eat "like a dog". They were jailed for life.

Paul Burstow, the Liberal Democrat shadow health minister, argued that an independent commissioner would restore public confidence.

Anna Climbie
Anna died of hypothermia after being forced to lie in a freezing bath
He said: "The government must consider the appointment of a children's commissioner, following the precedent set in Wales.

"The fact that the powers set out in the Care Standards Act are already being expanded by the government demonstrates the need for a commissioner with robust powers to monitor the child protection system."

The government has vowed to look at a "root and branch reform" of child protection in the wake of the Anna Climbie tragedy, as it emerged that the eight-year-old's social worker was instructed to close the case.

Health Secretary Alan Milburn launched a statutory inquiry, headed by Lord Laming, to look into the catalogue of failings by police, health and social services.

Anna died despite the involvement of three local authorities, police and two hospitals. The agencies involved admitted they had failed to protect Anna from "truly unimaginable abuse".

She was twice taken to hospital with injuries caused by suspected abuse and twice handed back to Kouao and Manning to continue their terror treatment.

Chaotic system

But colleagues of the social worker involved - Lisa Arthurworrey - said she was overworked and inexperienced, and said it was a system of general inefficiency and chaos that had failed the youngster rather than individuals.

The NSPCC joined the calls for a commissioner, saying: "We feel very strongly about this - it seems ridiculous that people in Wales know their children will be protected but that in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland there is no one."

A spokeswoman for NCH Action for Children said: "We support the idea of a Children's Commissioner and have done for some time but that can only be part of the answer."

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