Friday, 16 May 2008

Buying babies

I don't usually like drawing attention to Daily Mail stories like this - about a Nigerian woman who has been convicted of buying a baby to qualify for a council house in Britain. Usually such stories are grossly exaggerated or taken out of context to promote a certain political agenda and stoke up certain prejudices (immigrants taking our housing, defrauding our welfare system, etc). But this caught my eye for a couple of reasons.

One is that the woman was actually convicted, so it's not one of those urban myths (like Somalis in Bristol being given free cars by the Council, and Poles being given free mobiles so they don't get homesick) and not a mountain being made out of a molehill. The other is that when I was in Uganda I was told that there was a real concern about child-trafficking in northern Uganda, where many people live in camps for internally-displaced people, and that one of the main motives for trafficking was 'to get a council house in Britain'; (the others were sex-trafficking and child slave labour). It's horrendous if this is happening, and very difficult to prove.

It is common within certain African communities or informal adoptions of children to take place, for example, where a child has been left orphaned. There is often no documentation - particularly if they come from a country like Somalia, where there is virtually no bureaucracy in place - and DNA tests are irrelevant. So there is no way of telling if the adoption is genuine, or whether the children are being used.

The article quotes someone from the Ecpat UK pressure group, which campaigns for tougher laws against child traffickers, saying: "We are seeing increasing evidence that children are being trafficked into Britain for benefit fraud. They arrive from all over the world and our concern is what happens when they have served their purpose." The article doesn't say what happened to the child; presumable he's been taken into care, as his original parents are untraceable. I hope they manage to find him a good home in Britain.

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