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Tales of slavery in modern London

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Kurt Barling | 12:52 UK time, Friday, 18 March 2011

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Pastor Lucy Adeniji has the dubious distinction of being the first person to be sentenced to a total of eleven and a half years in prison after being found guilty of trafficking children into Britain for domestic servitude.

Some years ago on BBC London I broadcast the story of Tunde Jaji, raised in domestic servitude in north London and then abandoned to his identity paper-less fate when he rebelled against his condition.

I managed to secure proof he had been in London for more than 14 years and he went on to get his status regularised and a good degree from University. He is now settled.

At around the same time I met a group of seven women in similar circumstances who all agreed to speak to me after consulting with their lawyer. For legal reasons I am only now able to tell their story four years on.

One of their biggest frustrations has been getting the authorities to believe their stories of domestic servitude and to act upon their allegations.

So while the perpetrators of these acts of inhumanity go about their business freely, their victims count the cost in psychological as well as welfare terms.

One of the girls, whom I shall call Jenny, finally got her day in court in February. Pastor Adeniji, was made to face the allegations against her and the jury, having believed Jenny's testimony, convicted her.

In short Adeniji could not account for the fact that Jenny had no legitimate papers despite being in her care from the age of 11 (Jenny left Adeniji's home after eight years in 2006).

Nor could she account for the fact that Jenny had not been at school for three years after coming to London from Nigeria in 1998.

Jenny's evidence of beatings; pepper in the eyes and genitals, stabbings and all round brutality beggar belief. Speaking to neighbours of the family in a quiet cul-de-sac in Beckton there was genuine disbelief and anger that this had been going on right under their noses.

Part of the problem, it would seem, is reluctance by the authorities to intervene and question families when they are seeking to rely on the testimony of a child over an adult.

In the cases of the women I met in 2007, including Jenny, nearly all approached the police to complain, once they had left the homes where they had acted as domestic servants for years, to be met by a wall of disbelief.

Debbie Ariyo runs a lottery-funded charity, Africans Unite Against Child Abuse (AFRUCA). She believes that many of the perpetrators of this type of crime deceive the authorities by claiming that the children are related in some way or even that their way of raising "privately fostered" children is culturally specific.

Practitioners, she points out, need to listen first to the child, then investigate and conclude before dismissing serious allegations as the figment of a child's over fertile imagination.

This was the kind of grave failing that led to the murder of Victoria Climbie by her great aunt back in 1999. Things were supposed to have improved.

The Met Police set up operation Paladin in 2004 precisely to look into the reasons behind the rise in the numbers of unaccompanied minors entering the UK.

Detective Inspector Gordon Valentine was responsible for investigating Jenny's case and believes that unfortunately it represents just the tip of the iceberg. He also says public authorities and the public themselves need to be more aware of the signs that a child is enslaved.

A young person regularly bringing children to school, a child more bedraggled than other children in the same "family". No parent's attending school functions or even GPs being visited by minors without their parents.

In Jenny's case a regular school bus used to pick up Adeniji's wheelchair bound daughter every day. But no one appears to have thought to question why Jenny (a young child) was handing over the wheelchair bound child in the morning and taking in the same child on her return.

The authorities are mostly playing a game of catch up. Unless they can get to these victims quickly the evidence is often historic and the perpetrators elusive. There is also no incentive for the victim to cooperate if they face the prospect of deportation on being found out. This is often the fear instilled in the child by their abuser.

The prospect of being effectively without status for years can push these young victims over the edge. Another of the women I met, I'll call her Sarah, described how desperate things can become, to the point where committing suicide is a release from a fate many of them consider worse than death.

Four years after first meeting these seven women, only Jenny has seen here perpetrator investigated and prosecuted.

Jenny and her children have no permanent status still in the UK. Sarah has been given a visa for five years. Two others have indefinite leave to remain whilst the remaining 3 still are in visa limbo unsure of their future.

Some immigration judges accept that this situation runs counter to Britain's international treaty obligations enshrined in the Human Rights Act. This says if you want people to cooperate to stamp out trafficking you must first ensure their security.

As Pastor Adeniji begins her prison sentence Jenny sees some cause for optimism. She personally feels free from her abuser at last. She also hopes that it will give other children who find themselves in similar circumstances the courage to come forward.

The rest of us will just have to face up to the fact that when we suspect something is not right we may have to raise our concerns more quickly. We will often need to believe the unbelievable.

The residents of Ray Gardens in Beckton certainly wish they had.


  • Comment number 1.

    The case of the self-styled 'pastor' - Lucy Adeniji and many like her, highlights the sordid culture of deceit, corruption and spiritual indolence that has become the bane of the Nigerian society. The situation is not helped by the constant denial by many Nigerians of the retrogressive state of affairs in the Nation. They dismiss external criticism of Nigeria with a wave of the hand and by being quick to add that there is corruption in other countries as well. What such depraved Nigerians would not say is that Nigeria has persistently topped the league of corrupt nations for decades.

    The fact that many Nigerians still flock to these spiritually depraved individuals who masquerade themselves as Christians shows the level of spiritual depravity of most Nigerians who prefer to follw the biblical 'broad road' that can only lead to damnation. Underlining this is the fact that the level of injustice, crime, general depravity and poverty of the the masses of Nigeria is at variance with the expectations of a nation so abundantly blessed with Human and Natural resources as well as a bourgeoning of religious activities in every nook and crany. Nigerians need to awaken in their Spirits and seek spiritual salvation in themselves and their true GOD rather than in these horde of Religious Enthusists. Afterall, salvation is personal.

  • Comment number 2.

    People are so scared of being labelled racist for intervening that nothing happens. How can fostering be 'culturaly specific'? That in itself shows the white fear of questioning why Africans want to keep other Africans as slaves, whilst still blaming the 'white man' for all their gang problems, etc...

  • Comment number 3.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 4.

    First, Many thanks to Jenny for her bravery and leap of faith to freedom for herself and indirectly for the countless other un-named Jennys out there across Europe, Africa, Americas Australia, and Asia. Many thanks to the Met Police, and all those who played a role to help affirm Jenny's bravery and leap to freedom, for in so doing, has also secured the promise of Freedom and Hope for the many unknown Jennys out there throughout the UK, Europe, the America's, Arab oil states, other African countries, Australia and Asia at large. And thanks to the BBC for bringing Jenny's story to our attention.

    There is a root, though not the only one, to this type of problems that could be stemmed with a UK and International Community will. It lies in the very families back in Nigeria who consistently hand over their children to both Nigerians, strangers and foreigners that they come in contact with, who live outside of their local communities for the so called better life in Lagos, Abuja, London, New York, Copenhagen, Berlin, Beirut, Durban, etc etc. These families instill on these children before departure, the command of absolute obedience based on such flawed doctrines that, “obedience is better than sacrifice”, and supported by a life-long cultural conditioning to un-questioned submission to all authority both good and bad, and authority is established by such factors as lenient as a day difference in age, but most of all the proverbial dollar or economic status of the prospective slave holder.

    Domestic servitude is sadly but unfortunately prevalent in Nigeria across all of its history, and most ignominiously in predominantly Christian Southern Nigeria where the un-distinguished woman-of-the cloth, Pastor Lucy Adeniji hails from, and where servants are treated with far more indignity than any where else in the country. The religious body, if any, that conveyed on Pastor Lucy, her pastor-ship should be made aware of the practical Gospel of Slavery that one of its ministers is preaching by example, and by extension, on behalf of her denomination, the Nigerian Christian Kingdom, and the country of Nigeria at large. And most of all, Ms Lucy's village and family in Nigeria should receive details of how their daughter had represented them in the UK in the deplorable treatment of other human beings under her charge, and how this has led her to carry the family name into the gutters and dis-honorable registers of a prison. This is the ultimate shame as it could draw upon the pastor, the wrath of ostracization by her family, and community.

    I would not be surprised, if the pastor's life's story is reviewed further, it could be determined that her own beginnings was a mirror of the very beginnings that her charges had, before she took possession of them from the greater culprits in this matter, the families that turned over these children in the first place to the pastor and predator wolf, clad in the sheep's skin of the gospels.

    As I write this entry, Jenny's experiences in Pastor Adeniji's home is being echoed across our world severally, beginning with the very country where the in-famous pastor comes from, Nigeria, to behind the doors of British, European, USA, Canadian, North American countries, Arab Nations, Asian Countries and yes, several, if not all other African countries' homes. I feel that there is an urgency for the organizing of a virtual global army of volunteers to help law enforcements, law makers, religious leaders, social workers and the very families at the thresholds of these deprivations, work to preserve the dignity and the human rights of the Jennys of our world, and help stamp out with a final requiem and funeral rite for this most horrible of human scourges, slavery, which many of the desert countries of the Sahara, Niger, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Sudan and virtually, all of Africa, still practice with impunity, and complicity of their governments who are ironically members of the United Nations, UNESCO, UNICEF, African Union, etc and signatures to the International Human Rights treaties, and countless other treaties designed to protect and uphold always, the rights and dignities of people. Let each and everyone of us who have read Jenny's story search ourselves and see how we can help from now on, wherever we are on the planet, to restrict and deny these sort of experiences from befallen on any of our fellow human beings ever again.

  • Comment number 5.

    "Honour and shame, from all condition arise, act well on your part, for there the honour lies". The above quotation, was credited to and also very popular with my secondary school vice principal, whom we (the students) fondly nicknamed "act well". Only God knows from where or who he got that saying from, the important thing is that i found the adage very instructive in my childhood and upbringing. This also represent my reaction to the fate of Pastor Adeniji. She got shame from her maid because she did not act well on her part. Helping, or assisting less privileged relations is part of our cultural heritage as Africans, it cannot be taken away from us. We live an extended family system, whereby if your status in life does not positively impact your relations, you are regarded as a failure no matter your personal opinion.Unlike our inglorious pastor, there are countless Africans in Africa and in diaspora who were assisted to become great in life by their aunts and uncles. That is where the honour lies.


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