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Lord Avebury: My Lords, slavery was a crime against humanity or, as John Adams put it,

As we have heard today, that foul contagion is still infecting slavery-like practices which, whether or not we agree with the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, have to be considered a world phenomenon. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Brett, has just said, the ILO has done a splendid job in putting before us a programme of action from which we can draw the figures. I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, in his assertion that we do not have enough statistical data because all noble Lords have mentioned the 12.3 million people around the world who are being forced to work against their will under threat of some kind of penalty.

Perhaps I may begin by referring to the most heartrending group of all, those children involuntarily involved in armed conflict. In Africa a few years ago, the number reached a peak of 120,000, while in Sri Lanka the recruiting of children by the LTTE at temples has recently been increasing in spite of a pledge it gave, along with a joint action plan signed with the Sri Lankan Government in July 2003, to end the use of child soldiers. Burma was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. There children are trained to kill by the army and rebel groups, which are said to have 77,000 children under military command, along with thousands more who are forced into ancillary work such as road building and porterage. In Colombia, some 11,000 children are on active service with armed groups, in particular the FARC.

In February the United Nations Security Council considered a report from the Secretary General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict advocating a mechanism to track and monitor the recruitment of child soldiers. UNICEF said that it could do the job if given adequate security and the co-operation of governments and armed groups. Can the Minister say anything about the state of play on Mr Otunnu's proposals, and how the Government consider it would be possible to bring effective pressure to bear on bodies like the LTTE, the LRA or the FARC, to which UN sanctions would mean nothing?

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is potentially one of the most effective means of combating slavery and most African countries have ratified it. Niger, which has been mentioned several times during the course of our debate, ratified it in 1990, as did Sudan. But Niger's initial report under the convention was due in 1992 and was eight years' late, while Sudan's report, due in 1997, was also lodged in 2001 and was four years' late. There is no comeback on late reporting. I propose that, at the very least, a list should be published before every meeting of the Human Rights Commission and the Third Committee
 
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naming and shaming states that are late in reporting to any of the treaty bodies or in responding to requests for invitations by any of the special procedures.

The C8, a UNICEF-sponsored meeting of children and young people to feed into the Gleneagles meeting, called on world leaders to end the trafficking of 1.2 million children for labour and prostitution. It is now an offence to traffic a person for prostitution or sexual exploitation in this country, but UNICEF would like us to ratify the optional protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, make it a crime to traffic a child for any purpose and provide specialist care for the victims of trafficking, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, as being woefully lacking in the case of women but totally absent for children.

What is the Government's response to these demands? Is it now hard enough for traffickers to bring children into the UK? The cases mentioned by my noble friend Lord Roberts are relevant in this respect. Should there not be a presumption against admitting a child who is not accompanied by his or her natural parent; and that any such child who is admitted is regularly monitored by the local social services? I welcome the tightening-up on adoptions from abroad in the Children and Adoption Bill, but this has to be accompanied by closer scrutiny if informal arrangements for bringing children into this country by persons who are not the child's parents are to continue.

In west Africa, there is a cultural tolerance, which has been mentioned, for parents renting the services of their children or even selling them. In Burkina Faso, for example, it is estimated that 175,000 children between six and 17 lived and worked apart from their parents, including 95,000 who worked abroad. In Benin there is a traditional practice known as "vidomegon" in which poor families place a child, generally a daughter, in the household of a wealthy patron, who will pay something for the child's services. In Gabon, trafficked children worked long hours for no wages, were physically abused, had no education and not enough to eat. In Niger, which has been mentioned several times, the slavery of a subordinate caste numbering some 43,000 people was sanctioned by custom, and the leaders of the NGO campaigning against the practice were imprisoned—although, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has told us, they were released, mainly as a result of pressure from Her Majesty's Government.

I hope that during our EU and G8 presidencies we will help the poorest African countries to liberate their children from all these forms of slavery. I think the two go hand in hand. With respect to the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, the abolition of child slavery cannot wait for the abolition of poverty; it should be dealt with as a matter of extreme urgency.

Could not more be done to enhance the capacity of the AU to help member states to comply with the obligations they take on so blithely with little or no idea how to do so? President Obasanjo agreed with that proposition enthusiastically when I put it to him
 
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yesterday at a meeting in one of the Committee Rooms upstairs. A consultancy division in the AU, with help from the ILO, could advise member states on the measures that they need to take to comply with the Forced Labour Convention, which most of them have ratified.

The poverty reduction strategy papers of states where forced labour or actual slavery exists should, as the noble Lord, Lord Joffe, said, spell out how they intend to eliminate these practices by 2015, the target date set by the ILO, and although the PRS process is intended to be country-driven, the BWIs say that they can help countries to identify key constraints in making progress towards PRS objectives, and this is surely a major constraint on the states concerned.

As to bonded labour, the ILO points to Brazil as a model of what can be achieved if there is the political will. But in south Asia the problem continues to be pervasive in spite of laws which were meant to solve it. In India, the oppressed people belong almost entirely to the "scheduled castes" and "scheduled tribes" and are concentrated, as we have heard, in certain industries such as agriculture, brick making, carpet weaving, mining and quarrying. There is also discrimination in Pakistan where bonded workers come from low caste groups and non-Muslims. In Nepal, there is a hereditary class of bonded workers, the Kamaiyas, about whom we have heard. Many were freed in 2000, when the practice was declared illegal after a campaign by the British NGO, Action Aid. I think that I am right in saying that Bangladesh is the only country in south Asia that has no law against debt bondage. It was said at a conference in Dhaka in May that 1,492 children worked there in the sex trade as bonded workers. Sex workers all have to be registered with the local police who periodically arrest them and extort money from them.

Getting rid of bonded labour is south Asia demands a change in culture, not simply the enactment of legislation. As the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said, these matters cannot be left entirely to NGOs. It was good to see that the UN Human Rights Commission, which has in the past always turned a blind eye to caste-based slavery, has at last appointed special rapporteurs to look at the entrenched problems of these communities, which are estimated to number 260 million people world-wide. The only worry is that setting up these procedures will come out of the commission's budget, which has been frozen for years. It would be good if the UK would offer some financial help towards the cost of the new rapporteurs, in view of the widespread concern of the public in this country over caste-based labour.

Your Lordships evidently agreed with the Wilberforce Institute for the study of Slavery and Emancipation at the University of Hull when it pointed out that the emancipation movement still has unfinished business. I very much hope that the Government will support it in its efforts to raise a further £10 million for its activities before the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in 2007. The institute could help to ensure that the
 
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suggestions that we have been putting before the Government this morning are kept firmly on their agenda.

1.17 pm

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for initiating this important and highly relevant debate. We have already heard from many noble Lords about some of the horrors of contemporary slavery, which abounds world-wide today. There has been very little mention, as far as I can remember, of Africa.

While researching the issue of slavery in the modern world, I found myself appalled by the differing statistics and the extent of the problem. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned the League of Nations Slavery Convention of 1926, which first defined slavery as:

A slave is forced to work, owned or controlled by an employer; is treated as a commodity, or bought and sold as property; and is physically constrained or has his movements restricted.

I was fascinated by the argument put by the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, in his speech, which was, as always, eloquent. Nowadays, slavery manifests itself more obviously as internal and international trafficking, on which I shall concentrate today. The trafficking is predominantly of women and children for exploitation and cheap labour, usually in agriculture, domestic service, construction or the sex industry. When we consider slavery, we often imagine illegal sweatshops in third world countries. It is embarrassingly true that the problem of slavery is just as real in what used to be called the "first world" as it is in third world countries, as the noble Lord, Lord Brett, emphasised.

In the past few years, we had the tragedy of the illegal immigrant cockle-pickers at Morecambe Bay, who were mentioned by the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Leicester. We have also seen a growing awareness of the problem of people trafficking for the sex industry, specifically of women and children being lured to the UK, or being brought over, and being forced to work as prostitutes, having had their passports removed.

On an international scale, there is growing concern for the orphans of the Tsunami and a call for greater security to be provided to protect them from being trafficked, exploited or adopted illegally. ECPAT, an organisation that focuses on protecting children from trafficking and exploitation, has been highly involved with calls for action in this area. We now have before the House the Children and Adoption Bill, which, through legal adoption, cracks down on child trafficking. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, rightly pointed out that it does nothing, however, to deal with the problem of controlling and registering international fostering. Perhaps the Minister can tell us whether there will be action to move in this direction to protect children such as Victoria Climbié.
 
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Recently, there have also been growing fears for the disappearance of young African boys from schools in London, with possible links to child trafficking. It is impossible to estimate, and equally difficult to tackle, the issue of trafficking and exploitation of children and women. A Home Office report of 2000 concluded that:

Those vague figures give us little idea of the size of the problem. Can the Minister give us any clear idea of the scale of the trafficking of people into the UK for the purposes of sexual and non-sexual trafficking? If not, can she reassure us that research into the issue will take place at the soonest convenience?

I notice that the Government have not yet signed up to the European Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings, which was formally opened for signature at the Council of Europe's summit of heads of state in Warsaw on 16 and 17 May this year. That is the first ever international law specifically for protecting the rights of trafficked people. It guarantees a period of 30 days for the support, recovery and safe housing of trafficked people. It also gives them temporary residence, should they be in danger of returning to their own countries, and assists them with criminal proceedings. The Government claim that they have concerns about certain provisions of the convention and want to resolve those issues before signing it. Perhaps the Minister will tell us what those specific concerns are and how close the Government have come to resolving them.

I hope that the Minister will reassure us that the Government are taking every possible step to take a hard line on trafficking in this country. There was certainly some criticism of how the Morecambe Bay incident was handled and how it could possibly have been avoided. ESPAT has warned that there is often an underlying tension between how the police view trafficked women as victims of crime and how the immigration services view them as illegal entrants and potential deportees. Can the Minister explain how, within the different parts of the Home Office the Government are working to harmonise the process of handling, assisting and supporting trafficked people?

I end by saying that I share the sentiments of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who, in a speech in 1999, commented:

1.24 pm


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