Earlier this week I got home quite late. It was dark; I was feeling rather cold, hungry and was generally struggling to come to terms with the fact that winter seemed to be looming heavily.
Anyway, I foraged around the kitchen on the hunt for comfort food and managed to uncover a rather limp cucumber from the back of the fridge and some sad-looking spring onions that I had no recollection of buying. The result was, if I may be so bold as to say so myself, a nicely seasoned warm cucumber and spring onion soup. Recipe is available on request. Perfect autumnal comfort food, no?
Less comforting, however, was this weekend hearing how those spring onions may have begun their journey from field to soup.
Following a police raid on a farm in Worcestershire last week, 7 Romanian children between the ages of 9 and 15 were found picking spring onions. These children were working daily from 7.30am until dusk, without food or water, in freezing weather dressed only in thin summer clothing.
Although this is the first instance of child slaves being discovered working in UK fields, it’s an appalling practice that’s rumored to have been occurring for some time. Chillingly, a pair of Wellington boots suitable for a 5 year-old were also found in the field, suggesting that even younger children may have also been exploited.
6 of the children have been taken into police custody until their parents are identified.
It’s much too early for the authorities to start back-patting one another though. There have been several occasions in the past where trafficked children, forced to beg and steal on the streets, have been ‘rescued’, reunited with parents, only to find themselves returned to slave labor shortly afterwards – trapped in a vicious cycle. Why? Because some parents may be complicit in the trafficking operation.
Unpicking the role played by parents in child trafficking is incredibly tricky, and varies hugely from case to case from the naïve or innocent through to the simply criminal.
In some instances, parents may be duped by traffickers offering promises of a better education for their child, for example. In other instances, a parent may knowingly sell a child into slavery if it enables them to feed the rest of their family. Or the situation may be somewhere between the two – for example where the parent does intend to send the child to work, but is under the impression that he or she will be better fed, paid and looked after than is actually the case.
But in other cases, the sad reality is that parents are directly involved in the trafficking operation. This could take the form of forcing a child into labor in order to alleviate debts, or it could be that the parent is actually part of an extensive multi-child crime ring.
The details of the case in Worcestershire are much too sketchy at this stage to be able to make any assumptions about how and why the children came to be working in these conditions.
What is clear, though, is that not only can we ill-afford to under-estimate the scale and scope of the problem in the UK, but we also need to consider how to ensure children such as these aren’t ‘rescued’, only to be re-trafficked.