AN ILLICIT trade in children — sold by their parents, some while still babies, to criminal gangs and people traffickers — has been uncovered in Britain.
Hundreds of young children are reported to be sold and "trafficked" from Africa to be exploited as modern-day slaves.
An undercover reporter was offered several children for sale by their parents in Nigeria: two boys aged three and five for £5000 ($A11,231), or £2500 for one, and a 10-month-old baby for £2000.
Teenage girls — including some still pregnant — were willing to sell their babies for less than £1000. 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 have called 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 that anybody who could buy and sell babies was sick.
A recent survey by the Government's Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre claimed that 330 children, including 14 aged under 12, had been trafficked to Britain in the past year.
Trafficking is the transport and trade of usually
women and children for economic gain using force
or deception. The women are tricked into domestic
labour or prostitution.
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