Saturday 19 March 2011

Nigeria/The UK: The issue of child slavery by trusted guardians

Guardian abuse

The news [1] about the jailing of a female Nigerian-born church pastor in the UK for child trafficking and slavery is a microcosm of the abuse of guardian-ward relationships that long predates my birth.

Usually, a person of certain privilege or opportunity informs relations that their children would under their care have access to opportunity and a better life beyond that which the parents of those children can offer and in the process have the right of guardianship transferred to the benefactor on trust.

Good and bad guardianship

Taking the example of my parents, my father got to stay with his great-uncle who was a mentor that offered every opportunity for my father to succeed, by encouragement, by inspiration and by challenge – he went on to be a successful accountant and I have seen lots of correspondence between them that shows the amazingly mutual respect they had for each other.

In the case of my mother, she stayed with a first-cousin once removed on her maternal lineage who being a school master with an apparently evil wife meted out unbelievable cruelty to my mother than the stories we heard made the hairs on the backs of our necks stand on end.

Alone with the scars

Being far from home, there was no one to deliver her from the abuse she suffered apart from a neighbour who after enduring much of the anguish and cries of the child tried to intervene. However, the guardians got away with almost anything and made to justify their cruelty with notions of discipline or imparting the benefits of industry in the child.

After my mother left their guardianship, she rarely ever kept contact with any of that family but I was taken aback when he died and my mother was so distraught that she did not make it soon enough to witness his funeral.

Beneath it all, there is was a form of gratitude I could not appreciate but for all the scars my mother bore I am grateful that she did not in turn project that onto others.

Our dread of religious figures

Back to the general issue, this pastor and thereby a religious figure would have offered by reason of her vocation references that we fear to check all due to our cultural dread of the supernatural with regards to people of the cloth or some sort of religious calling. We have the feeling that religious people have the power to call down fire or have the earth open up to swallow us up at command that we rationalise with the irrationality of not touching God’s anointed regardless of character.

A religious person is a self-notarised person who can vouch on their own recognisance that we seek no other references as to their responsibility, honesty, humanity, compassion, competence and ability to do what they profess to be able to do.

That provided one of the elements of trust that allowed the parents of the two children affected by this case to allow this wicked person to take on these children as dependants.

The false Utopia of being abroad

Beyond this, the notion that the benefactor was in the UK beclouded the necessity to check what the benefactor was really doing in the UK. Somehow, to the person in the village and dare I say to many resident in Nigeria, a UK resident and broadly anyone abroad is a person of means, a person of influence and a person under whose mentorship one obtains a fast-track to opportunity and success.

The fact was this pastor was an illegal immigrant in the UK, who had a false passport and had provided false passports for her children and the wards she brought over from Nigeria.

The wards once on UK soil never saw the opportunities that were promised them rather they were engaged as slave labour to serve the whims and sadistic caprices of their presumed benefactor.

Escaping to freedom

No information is given of how long these wards were engaged in slave labour denying them the opportunity to seek out a life of independent borne of honest mentoring but this criminal enterprise came to light when one of the victims escaped the home of her “benefactor” after being physically abused and thankfully this was in the UK where it was unlikely the victim would be sent back to endure her lot and station having received the great privilege of leaving Nigeria for the glorious setting of the UK.

There are other instances of abuse where a young man had been resident as slave for 14 years [2] having arrived in the UK with the promise of getting a university degree but got dumped out on the streets destitute when he rebelled against his treatment.

This kind of ward or dependant abuse I believe is very prevalent in our Nigerian communities, it also extends to African communities where it woman of 47 [3] was brought over from Tanzania and seriously abused.

This problem not only involves those trafficked for slavery abroad but within Nigerian itself from villages or impoverished relations to major cities where the well-off guardians would rather exploit unfortunate distant relations who cannot fight back or complain than employ the house helps they cannot inordinately abuse without sanction.

Core parental responsibility

It is incumbent on parents to ensure that if their children are wards of other guardians, they have ways of ensure that the promises they were given are being fulfilled and there might well be some iota of truth in the conversations they have with their children rather than default to the notion that their children are being workshy.

The best way to elicit such situations is to agree to an innocuous code word that would indicate suspicious activity and they should not take everything on trust from those they have devolved the responsibility of parenthood too.

There are no easy answers to dealing with the abuse of wards and dependants but we need people to know that sending their children away on trust could be fraught with dangers they will never learn of, it is still the responsibility of a parent to ensure that the promise of a bright future is not paved with an absurdly tortuous present.

May I use this opportunity to introduce AFRUCA - Africans Unite Against Child Abuse (UK)[4] an organisation that deals with issues of the abuse of African children and offers a service to deliver children from slave bondage who have been brought to the UK under false pretences.


[1] BBC News | Pastor jailed for trafficking African child 'slaves'

[2] BBC News | Tales of slavery in modern London

[3] BBC News | Harrow woman convicted of keeping Tanzanian as slave

[4] AFRUCA - Africans Unite Against Child Abuse (UK)

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