I remember listening to a trivia quiz on TV and the question was ‘In which country is it
legal to have a slave?’ The answer was the UK, simply because there is no law against it. No doubt we have always considered ourselves far too sophisticated to indulge in such an evil practice.
I’m not sure that history supports that but the recent discovery of three woman kept as slaves in London has resulted in the home secretary introducing the Modern Slavery Bill which will increase the sentence for human traffickers to life imprisonment. The problem is so bad there is now going to be an Anti-Slavery Commissioner.
Anti-slavery legislation needed in this country in 2013?
Tragically, it is so.
The three woman, a Malaysian aged 69, an Irish woman aged 57 and a 30 year old British woman are believed to have suffered "emotional and physical abuse" at the hands of their 'captors'. The 30 year old is believed to have been in servitude all her life. As I write this they are being formally interviewed by police for the first time – one month after they gained their freedom. One of them, thought to be the 57 year old, rang the ‘Freedom’ charity to say they were being held against their will in a house in Brixton. The neighbours now say that in the past they had seen signs held up at the window but the writing was too faint to read. They were asking for help. Like many victims of slavery nowadays, they were being hidden in plain sight.
A man of Indian origin, Mr Balakrishnan 73, and woman of Thai origin, 67 have been released on bail. Seemingly they were leaders of a political collective which the older two women may have joined voluntarily many years ago. They have never been reported missing. Mr Balakrishnan founded his group The Workers’ Institute of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought in 1974 after he was expelled from the national committee of another Communist group.
So he thought he was running some kind of left wing commune, but without the ‘All men –and women- are equal' bit.
Mr Balakrishnan has been in the news before. In 1997 a coroner criticised the collective over the death of Sian Davies, 44, who had apparently opened a window on a cold Christmas Eve night and fallen to the street below. She died from her injuries seven months later.
The dead woman had been a member of the collective for 24 years.
The 30 year old woman in the current incident has been named as Rosie Davies, and there is speculation that she might be Sian’s daughter.
That is just one case of course but slaves do walk among us. They supply labour for shops and supermarkets, they work in fields, factories or nail bars, they are locked up in brothels and peep out from behind curtains, looking onto an ordinary street, to a life they will never know.
From The Guardian
The figures show there has been a significant and disturbing increase in cases of slavery, captivity and human trafficking in Britain in recent years. The UK Human Trafficking Centre, part of the National Crime Agency, has produced figures showing that in 2012 it had identified 2,255 potential victims of human trafficking - an increase 9% on the previous year.
778 of them were found to be have been trafficked or were awaiting a conclusive decision on their status. That’s over 400 people. 24% of them were children, and if my maths is right that’s about 100 kids. Victims are most likely to be Romanian, Polish, Nigerian, Vietnamese and Hungarian. Some 71% of the potential victims were adults, while 24% were children. The most prevalent types of exploitation is of course sexual - 35% with labour exploitation a close second at 23%.
Of the child victims, 28% reported being sexually exploited, and 24% reported criminal exploitation. There are no figures for 2013 as they are not yet available, but the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) statistics (a process used to identify trafficked individuals) show that from April to June this year, 383 potential victims of trafficking from 52 countries had been referred to the NRM.
As of 1st October another 114 potential victims were added to the list.
And I bet that is a very small tip of a very big iceberg.
If the figures aren’t bad enough, the details are horrendous. A man was jailed for 12 years for assaulting and raping a woman prisoner after she was snatched from Slovakia and trafficked to Lancashire. Another couple brought a deaf girl from Pakistan and kept her in their cellar. Another trafficked a 10-year-old girl to the UK, then repeatedly raped and kept her as a servant for nearly a decade. A professional woman (believed to be the first person convicted of trafficking) bought a Tanzanian woman into the country to work as her domestic slave; 18-hour days. She was convicted under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, which had just come into force and this act created a new offence of holding another person in slavery or servitude or requiring them to perform forced or compulsory labour. The new Anti-Slavery law goes much further.
The caravan site, courtesy of The Times
In September 2011, Operation Netwing raided a caravan site in Bedfordshire, and freed 24 people who were being held against their will in filthy and cramped conditions. Some of the men (Poland, Latvians, British, Lithuanians) had been held there for 15 years. The one thing they had in common was that they were all vulnerable. The traveller family who ‘owned’ the caravan site had prayed on those queuing for food at soup kitchens, approaching the homeless sleeping in doorways.
Five members of the traveller family were jailed in December last year.