Children newly arrived in this country have
been effectively removed by the law from the protection of the
welfare state, leaving them much more vulnerable to abuse,
according to evidence to the Victoria Climbie inquiry.
The Family Rights Group told the inquiry last
week: “It is clear to us that children from ethnic minorities face
much greater difficulties in accessing support when needed and
therefore are considerably more at risk than their white
The group was one of three organisations to
present evidence to the second seminar of the inquiry – on the
question of identification. It pointed out the particular
vulnerability to danger, including serious abuse, of asylum seekers
and children subject to immigration controls.
Through its Black and Ethnic Minorities Advice
Agencies project – which provides specialist support to small
community groups advising black families – it has found that in
many social services departments there is a belief that asylum
seeker children and their families are not entitled to any support
under the Children Act 1989.
“They appear to be treated as a group apart
from other families seeking help for children in need,” according
to FRG chief executive Robert Tapsfield, who called for the act to
be amended so that asylum seeker and refugee children are by
definition treated as children in need by local authorities.
Tapsfield’s evidence that recently arrived
children like Victoria Climbie were at very high risk was supported
by Modupe Debbie Ariyo, co-ordinator of Africans Unite Against
Child Abuse (Afruca). Ariyo argued that while the African community
was as committed as every other community in the UK to the
protection of the rights and welfare of its children, “there are
some fundamental issues that might prevent the fulfilment of this
to the detriment of the child”.
Ariyo pointed to a strong belief in physical
punishment among Africans as a way of instilling discipline in
children. She said that while most parents and guardians are able
to maintain the principle of “reasonable chastisement”, it is
possible for abusers to inflict “untold physical and psychological
harm on the child” under the guise of discipline.
She reported that at a recent conference held
by the organisation, Victoria Climbie’s aunt, Grace Akuba Quansah,
had drawn attention to the risk of mistaking signs of abuse in a
child for signs of respect for elders borne out of good discipline.
Most of the people who came across Victoria did nothing to help,
either because of this confusion or because they felt disempowered
by the law here, which allows for “reasonable chastisement”.
But Ariyo also highlighted the fact that
services targeted at African children are often subsumed under the
umbrella of services to children from ethnic minorities generally,
which means that the particular issues facing African children –
including linguistic and cultural issues – are neglected. “This
means that when a child is at risk very little is done to identify
the problem and provide protection.”
She also drew attention to the growth in
trafficking of African children to the UK to work as domestic
servants, or for sex, and to the harm and hardship these children
were suffering, and the difficulties in identifying them and
bringing them within the systems for assessment, care planning and