14 April 2007
Which modern global industry has a market value of $32 billion and involves up to 27 million people at any given time? Pharmaceuticals? Oil? No – it's the trade in human trafficking.
Slavery exists today despite the fact that it is banned in most of the countries where it is practised. It is a booming international trade. It may not be called slavery now but the conditions are the same: people are sold like objects and forced to work for little or no pay. This modern-day slavery takes various forms and affects people of all ages, sex and race – but the majority of victims are women and young girls who are forced into prostitution or otherwise exploited sexually.
Few countries can say their hands are clean – least of all our own. On 19 March, the BBC published a devastating article entitled Sex Slavery is Widespread in England. It is fed by the haemorrhage of vulnerable young women from countryside to city, described so vividly in Dickens' novels, which continues to this day. Human trafficking is now big business and it has reached epidemic proportions over the past decade. No country is immune, whether as a source, a destination or a transit point for the victims of this barbaric crime. In January, Prime Minister Blair announced that the United Kingdom would sign the 'Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings'. This would guarantee help and protection for all trafficked people in the UK – but only if the UK ratifies and implements the treaty! So far, thirty European countries have signed but only three have ratified.
Somehow, these 'top-down' attempts to tackle the problem seem remote and ineffectual. What is needed is a 'bottom-up' approach and just such an approach has been taken by a Norfolk charity right here on our doorstep in Great Melton. The Wulugu Project was founded in 1993 by Lynne Symonds, a lecturer in Chemistry at UEA, following a chance meeting with Karimu Nachina, a headteacher from Ghana. When Lynne heard about the extreme poverty and lack of education, particularly for girls in Northern Ghana, she decided to do something about it. As in many countries, there is a huge economic gap between the rural North and the urban South and thousands of northern girls migrate to the South hoping to find work but many end up as prostitutes. The twin demons of poverty and illiteracy force many parents to sell their children into slavery. Girls are sold more often than boys, who are kept at home to work the land. The Wulugu Project aims to tackle poverty through education and performs invaluable work in remote areas of Northern Ghana by helping women and girls, through education, to avoid slavery and prostitution.
Since initially providing books and furniture for the Secondary School in Wulugu (from which the Project takes its name), it has gone on to build schools in locations where they are most needed, in order to make education available to all. Work is carried out by volunteers in both the UK and Ghana and, with no office to maintain, a full 98% of money raised is spent on projects in Ghana.
The Wulugu Project is currently helping over 100 villages to break out from the cycle of poverty - by building schools, teaching skills that enable girls to get jobs, providing safe hostels to encourage female teachers to work in remote areas thus enabling girls from outlying areas to attend school. The Project also provides small loans to enable mothers to start up a business to earn money to send all their children to school.
Here is an approach that actually works - by a local organisation that is making a real difference to people's lives. Karimu, the Wulugu Project's man on the spot in Ghana, reports that Wulugu's vocational schools have minimised the number of girls going to the South. Some parents have even gone to the South to bring their children back to attend school! Several schools now have waiting lists for subjects such as dress-making, typing, computer skills and weaving and there is pressure to start new classes in catering and hairdressing. To me, this small, dedicated group of people in Norfolk has performed a miracle by bringing education and hope to people in a far off land. Not 'democracy' down the barrel of a gun but the possibility of a better life for themselves and their children – and an end to slavery of all kinds.
To learn more about the Wulugu Project, visit http://www.wulugu.co.uk/, phone (01603) 453750 or write to Lynne Symonds, Church Farm, Great Melton, Norwich NR9 3BH.