[h1]Asian 'child slaves' at British cannabis farms: report[/h1]
4 days ago
LONDON (AFP) — Criminal gangs are trafficking hundreds of children into Britain and forcing them to work in cannabis factories, with at least one child per week being found by police, a report said Sunday.
Campaign group End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT) said there had been a five-fold increase in the practice in the last year alone.
Children as young as 13, many from Vietnam, were being brought to Britain to work as "slaves" for organised criminals to push production of the drug here to record levels.
They are forced to tend cannabis plants grown in suburban houses and often forced to sleep in cupboards, with little chance of escape for fear of being caught.
"There is clear evidence that there are young people who are trafficked, bought and sold, for the purpose of forced labour in cannabis production in the UK," ECPAT's director Christine Beddoe told the Independent on Sunday.
"In the past 12 months there has been a 500 per cent increase in the number of cases being reported to us. We now get told about one young person every week being removed from a cannabis factory.
"But nobody knows the true scale of the problem."
Police believe the problem has emerged after organised crime gangs, many of them Vietnamese, moved to dominate the British cannabis market after the narcotic was downgraded from a Class B to Class C drug in 2004.
Declassification increased the potential rewards of growing and selling cannabis but decreased the risk of punishment. One police officer was quoted as saying cannabis was the "cash machine of organised crime."
The newspaper said one three-bedroom house converted into a cannabis factory can yield up to 300,000 pounds a year.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown has indicated he is in favour of reversing the downgrade.
Peter Stanley, from the campaign group Stop the Traffic, was quoted as saying criminals were effectively picking the children "to order."
"There is evidence that particular south-east Asian villages are targeted for specific trades, with Vietnam now known to specialise in boys for cannabis factories," he said.
The campaigners said trafficked children found by police on raids at cannabis factories need better protection, as many have disappeared without trace soon after being taken into the case of social services.
They also said there was evidence many of those prosecuted in connection with such cannabis farms were in fact originally trafficked as children.