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News: an estimated 408 foreign kids go missing in Britain, most may have been trafficked

First of all, many thanks to Kippa Herring on the adult adoptees forum for providing the information and links here.

A couple of news stories, first from the Guardian UK:

Lost 400 children may have been trafficked into sex or drugs trade.

More than 400 foreign children, many suspected of being trafficked into the sex or drug trade in Britain, have gone missing from local authority care.

Children from Africa, Asia and eastern Europe have disappeared from safe houses and foster homes around the country’s biggest ports and airports, figures released to the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act have revealed.


According to records from 16 local authorities around England’s ports and airports, an estimated 408 children disappeared between July 2004 and July 2007. They are known by officialdom as unaccompanied asylum seekers and child protection campaigners believe most have been trafficked.

It is thought that many escape only for traffickers to send them on for exploitation in other parts of the world, particularly Italy and Spain. Only 12 children have been traced and returned to care.


According to the figures obtained by the Guardian, Newcastle city council reported 12 Somali children missing and said 13 of the 17 Chinese children it has taken into care have disappeared. Officials at Suffolk county council said they find unaccompanied children arriving in shipping containers and in the backs of lorries travelling through Felixstowe. They admitted losing track of 16 children since March 2005, including six Afghans. The worst record was at the London Borough of Hillingdon which estimates it is dealing with 1,000 unaccompanied minors a year, coming mostly through Heathrow airport.

The council said 74 went missing between 2006 and 2007 and it does not know how many it lost in the previous years. Despite a system of safe houses for the 145 children who came into the care of West Sussex, which includes Gatwick airport, 42 went missing, largely Chinese and Nigerians.

Here are two other links:

Another from the Guardian UK: Saved from child traffickers, but not for long.

and another tiny blurb from News round up: Lost 400 children may have been trafficked.

Naturally, after digging through the articles, my next search was to go find out who the organization ECPAT UK is (ECPAT UK apparently now stands for “End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes.” They are the UK national representative of ECPAT International, created in Bangkok in 1991 as a campaign to “End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism;” see their history page) and take a careful look at the work they’re doing, particularly as they appear to be spearheading the effort to begin an inquiry on the missing kids which includes their “Thr3e small steps” campaign:

What are the Three Small Steps?

ECPAT UK and World Vision UKare urging the Government to give equal rights to trafficked children.

To safeguard trafficked children the Government must:

  • agree that trafficked children should have all the rights set out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child
  • ratify and implement the Council of Europe Trafficking Convention that says how victims of trafficking should be treated.
  • appoint a child trafficking watchdog – an independent expert who monitors and reports publicly on what is happening and recommends change.

While I am somewhat supportive of their first recommendation (I do have certain reservations) that trafficked children should have all the rights set out in the (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child (a convention the United States refuses to become party to, by the way), and I’m not yet familiar with the details of the Council of Europe Trafficking Convention and how they would play out, it’s their third point that concerns me most.

Particularly as the calls for this “independent expert” are coming from ministry organizations such as World Vision UK, the UK branch of the American christian NGO. Here’s a Worldvision page on some of their work on the Thr3e Small Steps campaign.

A typical example of the real focus that underlies World Vision UK’s work would be something such as this off their more prayers to pray page:

We ask especially for Your grace on those who are in prison in Rwanda. We pray that the Good News of Jesus Christ will be brought to each one. Help those who have committed crimes to seek your forgiveness. Give them the will to be born again and have new life in You.

Depsite pre-emptive objection handling through language such as this:

Is evangelism a part of World Vision’s projects?

World Vision does not proselytise. The organisation does not coerce nor demand that people hear any religious message or convert to Christianity before, during or after receiving assistance.

Educational activities based on Christian values are included in World Vision projects if appropriate and desired by the community. However, World Vision respects the religious beliefs and practices in countries where it operates, and seeks mutual understanding with people of all faiths.

Whenever appropriate, World Vision works in partnership with local churches and other faith-based organisations in an effort to work inclusively and collaboratively within existing community structures. Our focus is to respond to human need, and our compassion and professionalism reflect our faith.

Their proselytization policy is worthy of a much closer look. To quote a Seattle Weekly article from 2006 on World Vision, entitled “The AIDS Evangelists:”

Stearns and other World Vision leaders frequently note that they have a policy against proselytizing, but they define proselytizing as making aid conditional on hearing a religious message.

The same article includes a description of World Vision founder and evangelist Bob Pierce as told by his daughter, Marilee Pierce-Dunker:

Yet Pierce never gave up the evangelical aspect of his work. Whether from Korea, India, the Philippines, or Afghanistan, his letters home were full of ecstatic descriptions of the sometimes tens of thousands who showed up to hear him preach, always taking care to note how many “decisions” to convert to Christianity he racked up each night.

She goes further, attempting to make it clear that to Pierce’s mind, every last bit of ‘relief work’ he ever did was purely a step in creating the reciprocal process whereby the destitute, the starving and the orphans would convert to christianity; relief work as a tactic towards gaining religious conversion, not and end unto itself:

She takes out a letter that recently came into her hands, written by her father on his deathbed to the World Vision president who succeeded him. “Everything I ever did that helped a widow or an orphan,” she reads, “the only purpose was not that they have a better life, but that they might have eternal life.”

About the last thing these missing kids or more generally trafficked kids need is to stick an evangelist in the middle of their process of trying to get out. They need people fully focused on the needs of the kid themselves, not how many notches for jesus they can add to their bedposts out of these uniquely vulnerable kids. They’ve already suffered enough at the hands of predators, the last thing they need is a new batch of predators focused on how these kids can serve as a means to their pre-existing religious conversion ends.

While other groups that genuinely do focus on the needs of children (such as UNICEF UK) are listed as merely “supporters,” it concerns me deeply that (if I read the following correctly), Worldvision is listed as a joint sponsor on the campaign, perhaps due to believing that they may see a way to benefit by it should their goal be reached.

Who supports the Three Small Steps Campaign?

Three Small Steps is a joint campaign of World Vision UK and ECPAT UK with the support of Anti-Slavery International, Save the Children, NSPCC, the Anti Trafficking Legal Project (ATLeP), Barnardo’s, The Body Shop Foundation, CHASTE, The Children’s Society, EveryChild, ISS UK, Jubilee Campaign and UNICEF UK. Many of the campaign calls have been supported by Members of Parliament from different party groups.

How so? Well back to that third point; the campaign calls for the appointment of a Rapporteur, or as they phrase it an “independent watchdog,” some party who can coordinate, here in the ECPAT UK FAQ on the campaign is somewhat of a description of how they view the Rapporteur should function in a Q&A format:

The government has established a number of new institutions tasked with combating human trafficking recently. Your campaign is asking for another body – a national watchdog. How can you justify this?

The appointment of an independent national watchdog, or Rapporteur, is not going to duplicate the existing bodies but complement them and help them achieve more within their mandates and in coordination between them. International organisations of which the UK is a member have called for this and the Council of Europe Trafficking Convention recommends it too. It will make a difference in the systematic collection and analysis of the now scarce information and will allow independent oversight of anti-trafficking efforts and their coordination. There are indications that this institution is making a difference in the fight against trafficking in those countries where such a body is established.

The government says the Inter-Departmental Ministerial Group (IDMG) on Human Trafficking is doing the work that you suggest should be done by an independent watchdog.

That is not really the case. The IDMG has a very different remit and is not an institution but a quarterly gathering of government ministers. Its work is very important in the fight against trafficking. But, it is just not possible for this body to carry out the activities that are proposed within the remit of an independent watchdog.

The Rapporteur role appears to be something they want crafted to be a ‘national watchdog’ and able to make policy recommendations. Whoever was in said position could steer policy towards supporting programs run by groups like World Vision. After all, there just aren’t that many programs for children who have been through such things, and World Vision, heavily funded by US “faith-based” grants, have parlayed their US federal dollars and ties to U.S. law enforcement agencies into a truly international effort.

The scope of the World Vision Child Sex Tourism Prevention Project is broad:

World Vision has implemented this project in Cambodia, Thailand, Costa Rica, Mexico, Brazil, and the United States.

With backing from the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, World Vision has tackled this problem…

In practical application their work begins to look like children going through centers with programs exemplified by stories like this.

“Child Crisis Partners”

Hearing of the small girl’s tragic ordeal, one of Lan’s neighbors suggested taking her to the Neavea Thmey Center. A sexual trauma recovery facility operated by World Vision, it is supported by donors who participate in our “Child Crisis Partners” program.

World Vision’s Trauma Recovery Center: Neavea Thmey

Neavea Thmey, which means “new ship” in Khmer, infers the new journey girls embark upon in recovering from sexual abuse. In this protective, nurturing center, girls aged 8 to 18 are supported in a peer environment through the provision of:

  • Basic services to assist the process of healing and recovery, including medical assistance, psychosocial counseling, spiritual counsel, and sports as well as recreational activities.
  • Educational and developmental support through informal education, and vocational and skills training for income generation.
  • Support for reintegration back into society through family reconciliation services, foster care or group homes (whatever is appropriate for each girl).
  • Sexual exploitation prevention through research, networking, and targeted advocacy work.

Most girls’ stay in the center is for a period of six to 12 months before starting their new life. More than 700 girls have been assisted by the Neavea Thmey Center since it opened in 1997.

World Vision “Spiritual counsel.” Yeah, just what she needs. Not.

Going back up to the article I quoted above, with facilities like this, it concerns me deeply when I hear calls for turning over legal guardianship of the kids to “independent guardians”:

These vulnerable children need to be given independent guardians as soon as possible to ensure they are protected from traffickers who we know target them even while they are in care.”

It’s bad enough turning the kids over to places like this, but it becomes potentially far worse, when places like this could have some form of legal custody. Running away from such programs is one thing when a child is still somewhat independent, if places like this were to gain legal custody the consequences running away would change dramatically.

What these kids need is genuine support without ulterior motives, as for them actually getting it? I won’t be holding my breath.

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