She was a teenage orphan living on the streets of Nairobi when a man approached her and promised her work in the United Kingdom. He told her she would be working as a house girl.
True to his word, her "savior" brought her into the U.K. -- but instead of placing her with a family the man took her to a brothel, where she was systematically raped, beaten, and forced to work as a prostitute.
Three months later, when the 16-year-old Kenyan girl became pregnant, she was forced to continue sleeping with a succession of men until she was almost due to give birth. The heavily pregnant teenager was then removed from the brothel, driven out of the town where she had been held, and dumped many miles away on the streets of Sheffield.
"It's been a painstaking process but we now have a clearer picture of when and how the girl arrived in Sheffield and the terrible ordeal she has been through," said Detective Inspector Matt Fenwick of the South Yorkshire Police. "As you may expect, she is still extremely distressed. All interviews have been conducted entirely at her pace, and she is now being looked after by specialist carers.
"The sequence of events that has emerged during those interviews is both shocking and tragic. It involves imprisonment, beatings, and systematic rape over a lengthy period. Anyone who can subject a teenage girl to such abuse needs to be caught as a matter of urgency before they can do the same again. I'd ask anyone who thinks they may have encountered this girl or her captors to come forward -- even if they were one of her clients."
The 16-year-old girl's ordeal is similar to that of more than 4,000 other women who have been trafficked into the U.K. A Home Office study in 2002 suggested that the scale of trafficking of women may range anywhere from a hundred to several thousands annually.
End Child Prostitution, Pornography, and Trafficking (ECPAT), U.K., is a children's rights organization that represents a coalition of nine U.K. organizations working on children's issues. It says the true scale of human trafficking is unclear because no updated statistics are available on the problem in the U.K.
In an effort to determine the scale of the problem and to assess the level of awareness and mechanisms for dealing with it by the social services and other authorities, ECPAT U.K. conducted research in 2001 and 2004 into the trafficking of children into the U.K.
In "Crossing Borders: The Trafficking of Children into the U.K.," a briefing paper published last year, ECPAT U.K. says the 2004 research indicates that girls, in particular, are being brought from Africa and Eastern Europe for purposes of domestic servitude and prostitution:
"There were 35 cases of child trafficking with the 17 boroughs of London, including nine children under 16 years of age; there are many more reported cases that the social services did not disclose. Increasingly, an influx of young Vietnamese, Chinese, and Thai children, particularly boys, has been noticed by various agencies. In addition, ECPAT U.K. has received reports indicating the issue is not confined to London."
Current efforts by the government to come to terms with the problem of child trafficking seem to be focused on legislation and law enforcement.
The Nationality, Immigration, and Asylum Act of 2002 covered the offence of trafficking. This was later replaced by the Sexual Offences Act of 2003, which defines a child as someone below the age of 18 and criminalizes trafficking for sexual exploitation. It also makes it an offence to traffic into, within, and out of the U.K., imposing a maximum sentence of 14 years.
Additionally, the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants) Act of 2004 makes it an offence to traffic in all forms of labor exploitation and imposes a maximum penalty of 14 years.
Organizations working with victims of trafficking say these measures are not enough. They point out that victims of trafficking are rarely willing to testify because of threats the victims and their families receive from the traffickers.
ECPAT U.K. gives as an example what happened between 1995 and 2001 when West Sussex Social Services took into its care a number of unaccompanied minors, many of them Nigerian girls, who were claiming asylum as soon as they arrived at the airport.
Many of the children went missing within days or months of being in care. There were indications that they were being further trafficked to other parts of Europe. Those remaining in care were not considered safe: some of them were suspected of having contact with their traffickers and being prostituted or made to deal drugs.
"Police assistance was considered ineffective in cases where social workers reported suspicious or abusive characters around children. Some felt that police viewed the children only as asylum seekers and not as child protection cases," ECPAT U.K. said.
The organization emphasizes that strategies for tackling child trafficking issues need to concentrate on child protection and prevention, not just law enforcement.
"On a wider regional and international level, greater synergy and cooperation is vital. The implementation of existing legislation is necessary, as is including effective protection measures for victims in national plans of action," the organization says.
Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International U.K., said:
"Currently, victims of trafficking have almost no rights in the U.K. In the eyes of the law, they are simply illegal immigrants and are routinely detained and deported.
"The government should sign the European Convention Against Trafficking -- something it could do tomorrow. Signing would turn the system around, so that trafficked women are recognized as the victims and not the perpetrators of crime."
This article was first published by OhmyNews International. A podcast of the article is available at http://english.ohmynews.com/articleview/article_view.asp?menu=c10400&no=293231&rel_no=6/.