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Lord Wei: Why we need legal advocates for trafficked children and the scandal of those we lose from local authority care

Screen Shot 2012-02-15 at 11.31.21Lord Wei is a serial social enterpreneur, having been part of the founding team of Teach First and establishing the Shaftesbury partnership, which piloted the National Citizen Service programme. He was appointed a Conservative peer in 2010, where he is the only active Parliamentarian of Chinese origin.

Imagine if you were brought into this country not under your own volition, but effectively as a slave, trafficked in to serve a family in the UK, and made to work long hours, forced to beg or perform unimaginable tasks thousands of miles from home. And imagine if you manage to escape, and find your way to the authorities, who then place you under the care of a social worker. And imagine that person, overworked and having to cover many cases was not always being able to turn up when you needed them. And given that you may not be able to speak English and that you do not have legal status in the country, imagine that you are summoned to court or to meet various statutory agencies. But then -- if that wasn’t bad enough -- imagine being kidnapped back by those who trafficked you from your local authority care home. Well this happens currently to 30 percent of all trafficked children initially recovered from their captors (around 300 children a year) from local authority care.

Injustice is a thoroughly conservative issue: my great hero, the reformer the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, an Ultra-Tory, would no doubt have been up in arms both at the injustice of the modern day slavery that prevails and affects more people globally than before we supposedly abolished it. He would have been aghast at the fact that the state is unable to look after them and keep them safe. He would have advocated, I suspect, what Lord McColl and what a number of other concerned parliamentarians including myself have called for: a nationwide network of volunteer legal advocates, a few hundred citizens, who like magistrates, would be willing to be present alongside the children to ensure they were safe, and to help them navigate with proper training the various agencies they have to interact with before being taken back to their home countries where possible.

A number of charities are now willing to help establish just such a network, which has been shown to be successful and standard practice in other countries, including in Europe and the US. The UK, almost alone, currently believes the present arrangements are sufficient. They are not. Damian Green, has done so much to push back at immigration problems, must see that some change is needed. This is why Lord McColl and others seek to table amendments in the Freedom Bill to make legal advocates in such cases permissible, and to ensure that public agencies will work with such people to keep these often traumatised children out of harm’s way.

I'm proud to be a Conservative. We are right to take a stand on immigration, and the economy, and push for improved education. Let's also show the country and world that we also people of great compassion; people who can help those who are here against their will. Let's show that we Conservatives can also be modern day social reformers.


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