TS Columnist: We Need to Tackle the Epidemic of Using Children as Domestic Slaves – Debbie Ariyo



Recently, a Nigerian-British couple was convicted in the UK for trafficking and exploiting a man they brought into the country when he was 14 years old, holding him captive for the next 24 years as their slave. The man spent most of his life at the whims and caprices of the couple and their families, attending to their needs and desires and being psychologically and physically abused – at the expense of his own life and well-being.

Surprisingly, this is not a new or recent phenomenon. When I started the charity AFRUCA here in London in 2001, the trafficking of children for domestic slavery and sexual exploitation were one of the key issues that informed my action. In the course of AFRUCA’s work over the past 14 or so years, we have seen many cases as the one above and have supported over 300 children and young people trafficked into the UK to be exploited and abused mainly by people from their own countries and in many cases – members of their own families.


The cases we have dealt with at AFRUCA are enough to make anyone with any shred of humanity in them break down in tears. I remember in 2006, two young men walked into our office. Having seen me on TV, they were able to track down our office in London. They recounted their experiences of being brought to the UK by their mother after their father died because his family were fighting over his property. Not wanting the children to be harmed by all the in-fighting, she wanted her family in England to help look after them until things calmed down. This marked the beginning of a life-time of suffering endured by the two young people. They never saw their mother again and spent the next 10 years in slave-like existence. Passed on from relative to relative, they were used to claim state benefits but they were never looked after. One of the young men told me he never had a winter coat in all the time he lived with relatives – winter was always very difficult for him. A relative who owned a restaurant practically turned the two boys into cooks, waiters and cleaners. They would go to the market to buy foodstuff, they would cook all the food and serve the mainly clientele of Nigerian taxi-drivers who would go there to buy their take-away food while on night-shift. Shockingly, in all the years, no one ever thought to ask the two boys what they were doing serving food in a restaurant in the middle of the night. If they did anything wrong, they would be beaten with a wooden spoon. One of the young men talked about how he was beaten by his “aunty” the restaurant owner and he fell down the stairs and collapsed…she still continued to whack him with the wooden spoon.

In 2010 a Nigerian pastor was jailed for 11 years here in London for trafficking children and exploiting and abusing them. One of the young people she abused who we also supported at AFRUCA recounted a story in which she forgot to bring a piece of frozen fish out of the freezer. The woman was so incensed she used the fish to beat her until she was unconscious.

The trafficking of children for domestic slavery in the UK is an epidemic most notable amongst the Nigerian Diaspora. We have the highest number of children trafficked into this country for both domestic slavery and sexual exploitation. We have the second largest number of victims of trafficking in the UK – more than any other country in the world. What is the reason for this anomaly?

The evil culture of using children as house-helps in Nigeria is a contributory factor. Many people feel it is right to import this practice into the UK since it is normal in Nigeria. Many people do not see anything wrong with this practice and are unlikely to report cases to the UK authorities. Sadly many children have also been failed by the authorities because of their own believe that using children as domestic servants is a cultural practice which should be left alone in the interest of race relations. This cultural relativism means that many children who run away from their traffickers and who report to the police are returned to their abusers – only for them to experience a worst form of abuse for daring to run away.

The outcomes for many of these young people are always dire. Most people in Nigeria will be shocked to find out there are young people here in this country who cannot read or write – yet they have been in the country for 5, 8, 10 years. This is because their trafficker has refused to send them to school, preferring to use and abuse them as slaves locked up in the house doing manual labour. Ironically, for many of these young people, the key reason they were brought into the country was to have a better life and a good education.

The Nigerian government needs to address this terrible issue of domestic servitude or slavery, if we are to protect many children from exploitation, abuse and harm. It is neither morally nor legally right to have hundreds of thousands of children in culturally accepted and acceptable slavery in this 21st century – and for no one to see anything wrong with it. Almost all house-holds in the south-western part of Nigeria have children used as servants – class and religion are both no barriers. These poor children experience the worst forms of abuses imaginable. There are often stories in the Nigerian media about a child being beaten to death or having hot water poured on them or being harmed in other ways – because they are a domestic servant. This evil just has to stop.

The onus is on the Nigerian government to declare a zero-tolerance of child abuse and the use of children as domestic slaves. I call on the government to completely ban this evil practice and jail anyone who breaches this law. The current law Nigerian anti-trafficking law that gives parents the lee-way or prerogative to give their children away if they are over 12 years old is an anomaly and does not help. There can be no excuses for using children as slaves in this 21st century.

Debbie Ariyo OBE is Chief Executive of AFRUCA UK, an organisation promoting the rights and welfare of African children (www.afruca.org), and a postgraduate student at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

SEE ALSO: TS Columnist: Is Buhari’s 2015 a case of Deja Vu? – Debbie Ariyo






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Modupe Debbie Ariyo – SUNDAY
Debbie is Founder and Chief Executive at AFRUCA – Africans Unite Against Child Abuse and Founder and President of AFRUCA Foundation for the Protection of the Rights of Vulnerable Children, a Children’s NGO in Nigeria. She holds a Bachelor degree in French and Education from the University of Benin, Nigeria and a Master degree in Urban Policy from the University of North London, UK. She is currently undertaking an Executive Masters degree in Public Administration at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Born in the UK and raised in Nigeria, before starting AFRUCA in 2001, she spent 10 years working in the British Civil Service across different government departments and in different policy posts including urban regeneration, competitiveness, small business, youth entrepreneurship and enterprise policies. In 2003, she resigned from the Civil Service as a Higher Executive Officer to focus on running AFRUCA full time. Now as a social entrepreneur, Debbie has spent the past 13 years as the Chief Executive of AFRUCA. In that time, she has helped to build the AFRUCA brand by designing, developing, implementing and evaluating AFRUCA’s range of innovative work programmes on the promotion and protection of African children, raising the organisation’s profile as a dynamic children’s charity. She has worked with others to develop and implement AFRUCA’s strategies and policies, making the organisation one of the leading black led charities in the UK. She works with and advises UK agencies and international bodies to shape policy and help improve service provision for children, sitting on a number of related national committees, working groups and advisory boards including at the Department for Education, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Debbie is a recognised expert in the field of child protection and diversity issues with strong expertise in different specialist areas including in culture, parenting and child protection, family support, community child protection, the trafficking of children as well as work against the branding of children as witches. She is a Trainer, a Campaigner, a Writer, a Researcher, a Public Speaker and a strong Advocate for the rights and welfare of children. As a strong believer in prevention and early intervention strategies in the protection of children, she has produced many guideline materials and safeguarding publications to help raise the skills levels of parents and practitioners to aid child upbringing and prevent abuse. As a community development expert, she has designed, developed and implemented a number of innovative community based programmes on child protection and worked with and trained hundreds of parents and practitioners across the UK on how to improve their knowledge and skills to ensure better protection for children. Debbie has specific senior management skills in a number of key areas including Strategic Planning, Stakeholder Management, Change Management, Financial Management, Social Entrepreneurship and Organisational growth and development. A successful fundraiser, she has raised millions of pounds in grants to help develop AFRUCA’s work across the UK and in Africa. She also mentors women and young people setting up businesses and social enterprises, sharing with them her experiences of successfully building the AFRUCA model. She is a student Mentor under the London Metropolitan University Career Mentoring Programme. Debbie was a founding Non Executive Board Member of the Independent Safeguarding Authority, the UK agency established to prevent unsuitable people from working with children and vulnerable adults. She was a Governor at Kingsdale Foundation School in South London. In 2013 she served as an international observer at the Kenyan Presidential Elections. A recognised expert in Nigerian current affairs, she is a known public speaker and commentator on Nigeria and has provided expert oral and written evidence in many Nigerian related UK immigration and asylum cases. Debbie is a Fellow of the School for Social Entrepreneurs. She has received many awards and commendations for her work and was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2011 Queen’s Birthday Honours List for her work with children and families. In January 2014, Debbie was listed as one of 12 African Women Top Achievers in the UK by AFRO Newspaper. In May 2014, she was one of 100 Diasporan Nigerians awarded the UK Nigeria Centenary Awards for Excellent Contribution to society.


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