Tuesday, April 7, 2003

Livingstone cracks down on child sex networks

Mayor of London's team to map where traffickers operate

Ken Livingstone will start an urgent investigation into child prostitution in London this week based on evidence that the police and social services are unable to cope with the illegal trafficking of young people into the heart of Britain's sex industry.

The mayor will set up a team to gather information from child prostitutes to map where the traffickers operate and establish cross-borough networks to support young people at risk of violence, drug addiction and sexually transmitted disease.

The development is part of a new deal for 1.6m children in London that will give them as much right as adults to be consulted about the issues that concern them.

A draft strategy for children in the capital, to be published tomorrow, says that 53% of children in inner London boroughs and 33% in the outer boroughs live below the official poverty line.

What worries them most is lack of safety in their neighbourhoods. Interviews with 3,000 children established that their priorities were cleaner, safer parks and play areas, more activities for children, and slower traffic.

On child prostitution the strategy says there are few projects working with young people at risk of sexual exploitation. "The evidence suggests that these vulnerable young Londoners are not being adequately identified, supported or protected," it says.

As the government puts through legislation strengthening the penalties for child trafficking, Mr Livingstone will establish a forum to monitor the commercial sexual exploitation of young people.

"Those participating in the forum will undertake a detailed exercise in local mapping, share information about patterns of exploitation and develop cross-borough working protocols to ensure that exploited children do not fall through the net of services," the document says.

The forum will also explore particular problems of exploitation faced by lesbian and gay young people.

Other features of the strategy are campaigns to give 16-year-olds the vote, ban physical punishment, and establish a statutory requirement to investigate every child death as part of the government's response to the murder of Victoria Climbie.

Nicky Gavron, the deputy mayor, who drew up the strategy, said that politicians too often forgot that children had strong, well-articulated views. "I want the under-16s to have a voice and the over-16s to have the vote," she said.

A children and young people's unit is to be set up at the Greater London authority to influence every area of policy-making, implementing a recommendation of the UN declaration on the rights of the child calling for children to be seen as full citizens.

One of its main targets will be to halt the further sale of school playing fields.

This week Ms Gavron will begin campaigning for an independent children's rights commissioner for England. She is expected to be supported by Cherie Blair, the prime minister's wife, in her attempt to reverse the government's opposition to the idea.

She will also be backed by Peter Clarke, the children's commissioner for Wales, and Brice Dickson, chief commissioner of the Northern Ireland human rights commission.

The government was criticised in October by the UN committee on the rights of the child for not having in place an independent champion for children in England.

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Created: April 14, 2003
Last modified: April 14, 2003
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