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General Synod digest: Durham diocesan motion calls for child protection

18 February 2022
Clive Mear/Church Times

Alistair Bianchi (Durham) moves the motion

Alistair Bianchi (Durham) moves the motion

Slavery and trafficking

A MOTION on slavery, asking the Government to ensure the proper protection of trafficked and enslaved minors, was carried unanimously by the General Synod on the Wednesday afternoon.

The motion had originated in Durham diocesan synod in 2018. Introducing the debate, Alistair Bianchi (Durham) noted that the current conversations about trafficking had moved on since then. “While the subject of this speech is trafficked minors, we must acknowledge that the issue deeply affects every age category and applies to international and domestic trafficking.”

He therefore welcomed amendments from Southwark diocese to widen the scope, especially in light of the Nationality and Borders Bill currently being debated in the House of Lords (News, 11 February). Much of the research and recommendations had come from the report Every Child Protected Against Trafficking, which he commended.

In 2018, Durham diocese had supported Stephen (not his real name), who had been trafficked to the UK from Vietnam, aged 12, and put to work on a cannabis farm for four years before his rescue. Stephen had faced the new risk of being deported back to Vietnam, where there was a strong chance of his being re-trafficked and facing persecution as a Christian convert. He had been sheltered by a vicar in the diocese, and the Bishop had petitioned the Government to have his deportation overturned. Stephen had been given leave to remain. “Children should, first and foremost, be treated as children,” said Mr Bianchi, who had been involved in rehabilitating trafficking victims in the UK and in Ghana.

Clive Mear/Church TimesCanon Rachel Mann (Manchester)

In Sheffield, he and his wife had connected with families whose passports had been removed and who had been forced into servitude. In Ghana, he had witnessed the “manipulation and lies sold to young people” who had been “seeking a pathway out of poverty for themselves and their families”. Boys were promised glittering sporting careers, and girls were groomed from a very young age by people with trafficking links, he said. “These people who arrive on our shores are not illegal immigrants; they are victims of trafficking and, as such, should have the full weight of the law to protect them.”

Concerns remained for these individuals, particularly as they transferred into adulthood. Minors were left in unsuitable accommodation, and the pandemic had increase Home Office delays; the asylum system was a push-point for trafficking, he said.

As it stood, the Nationality and Borders Bill put minors in a “highly vulnerable position”. “We must ensure the Government is held to account on this.” He hoped that his motion would strengthen the consensus of the Church and support the work of the Bishops on the Bill.

The Church needed to be engaged in issues of modern slavery at the grass-roots, he said. The Salvation Army and Clewer Initiative had already done good work to raise awareness. “It is vital that our churches are equipped to identify those who are captive and to call on the Government to support those who are most vulnerable.”

Moving his amendment, the Archdeacon of Lewisham and Greenwich, the Ven. Alastair Cutting (Southwark), said that his colleagues were keen to amplify the core message of the motion. There were many slave references in scripture, and he noted a plaque in Holy Trinity, Clapham, which said that slavery had been abolished in 1853. “Sadly, we know that, 200 years later, slavery has not been abolished.”

It was evident abroad, in the UK, and in both urban and rural settings, he said. Slavery was not just poor working conditions, but a multitude of abuses, including sexual abuse, county lines, coercive control, and organ-harvesting, to name a few. “Slavery is a global pandemic and we have peaks of it across our country now,” he said: “an estimated 136,000 victims in the UK.”

His amendment asked the Government to continue to take “bold decisions” in this area, raise awareness by using existing resources, and introduce training.

Nadine Daniel (Liverpool), a former national refugee-welcome officer for the Archbishops’ Council and anti-slavery officer for Liverpool diocese, warned that it was “dangerous” for people with only “a little bit of learning” on the subject to go in with a saviour complex.

She had left a previous post because it was a church project that had run out of money. The trustees of the Church-backed Clewer Initiative (News, 20 October 2017) funded their own work and did not have the money for training. “If it is under-resourced, best-case scenario: the people that you are trying to save will be lost, disappear in the system, as tens of thousands of them did during lockdown; worst-case scenario: people in your church will get hurt.”

Clive Mear/Church TimesThe Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilson

The Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilson (Canterbury), welcomed the addition, but wanted the Synod to be aware that this issue could not be left to bishops and synods; congregations had to be engaged, because they were the voters. It had to be embedded in conversations and sermons and within parishes.

Luke Appleton (Exeter) welcomed the detail and teeth of the amendment.

The Archdeacon of Knowsley and Sefton, the Ven. Pete Spiers (Liverpool), was concerned that the amendment removed the request for government legislation. “That would be a pity.”

Maureen Cole (Archbishops’ Council) said that a friend of hers who had originally planned to train to be a nurse in Kenya had been groomed as a child by someone who bought her chicken and chips. As a result, her friend had ended up in an Arab country. “It was by God’s grace she was rescued,” and was now teaching young people about the signs and dangers of modern slavery.

When Ms Cole was diocesan secretary, she had also spent a day with the anti-slavery unit of the police. “I was shocked by some of the stories.” Her awareness had grown. “We can all have a part to play to drive slavery out that we were not aware of.”

Alicia Dring (Derby) said that the diocese of Derby had a close interest in this issue, owing to the work of the former Bishop of Derby, Dr Alistair Redfern, who had been instrumental both in the Modern Slavery Act and in nurturing the Clewer Initiative. “We cannot allow our British passion for paperwork and our indifference to lack of resources to put these children in further danger.” This started with equipping congregations to be vigilant and keeping the issue on the agenda.

The Revd Martin Poole (Chichester), who is the diocesan lead on modern slavery, said that he had been working with the RC diocese to commission 15 anti-modern-slavery ambassadors across the network. They were parish-based and equipped to give information in their locality and acted as a point of contact on the issue. He urged the Synod to work in partnership with RC dioceses. He hoped, eventually, for a national network of ambassadors.

Clive Mear/Church TimesThe Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Vivienne Faull

The amendment was carried by a counted vote: 301-2, with three recorded abstentions.

In the debate on the amended motion, the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, said that, although the Church could be proud of its contribution to the Modern Slavery Act, there was much still to be done. Research suggested that migrant victims and witnesses with insecure asylum status were less likely to disclose slavery and abuse, because they feared deportation by the Home Office — a fact that perpetrators exploited.

“There is a clear conflict of interest between upholding immigration rules whilst also offering safeguarding to vulnerable victims,” Bishop Mullally said. The same issue had been raised, during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill, through an amendment that had been rejected by the Government (News, 12 February 2021). “The loophole has appeared again in the Nationality and Borders Bill.”

The Bishop had tabled an amendment to rectify this, but the Government had again resisted. The Bill was failing the most vulnerable in society, she said. The Church needed “to step up what we do if we are truly going to care” for these people.

The Bishop of Bristol, the Rt Revd Vivienne Faull, thanked Bishop Mullally and the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Paul Butler, for “being up at silly o-clock” in the Lords to debate the Nationality and Borders Bill. As it stood, it would undermine current anti-slavery legislation, she warned. Currently, the victim who had been convicted of a criminal offence with a prison sentence of 12 months or more anywhere or at any time might lose support. “Imagine what risk that puts sex workers [at] who have been trafficked, and young people caught up in county lines,” she said.

The Bill also set time-limits on disclosure. The Church knew from its safeguarding work how long it took for survivors to tell the truth: this was “piecemeal and over time”, as people found their voice.

The Archbishop of Canterbury confirmed that the Lambeth Conference would include a section on modern slavery.

Children and young people required additional protection and robust support, Vanessa Pinto (Leicester) said. She spoke of Mary (not her real name), who, aged 14, had been trafficked to Britain from West Africa and forced into domestic work by a relative. She had escaped two years later, and, having been identified as a modern-slavery victim, had been placed in a semi-independent accommodation “with little support”. She had befriended a man who was violent towards her and became pregnant. “She was still a minor.” Mary was finally listened to by a charity working with trafficked children, Ms Pinto said. “Mary’s story is not unique.” Victims fell through the gaps and were left to be repeatedly victimised, she said. These people needed support to “thrive, not just survive”.

The Revd Matthew Beer (Lichfield) said: “Slavery is a blight on our post-modern and individualistic society, where ‘out of sight, out of mind’ is a real challenge.” He urged the Synod to commit time, prayer, effort, and resources to the challenge. “Real people are carrying the scars of trafficking” in every town and community in this country, he said; 120 had been trafficked in his area alone.

In the past decade, Canon Rachel Mann (Manchester) said, Manchester diocese had assisted 400-500 people who had been trafficked from England, Ireland, and overseas. These statistics should “leave none of us to doubt the horrifying pervasiveness of modern slavery”. She supported the motion and extra substance of the amendment. The Government was in serious danger of damaging the ground-breaking work of the 2015 Modern Slavery Act, she warned.

The motion was carried by 331, nem. con.:

That this Synod:
(a) acknowledge the leading role that Her Majesty’s Government has played internationally in challenging slavery; and
(b) ask Her Majesty’s Government to ensure the proper protection of minors who are trafficked and enslaved is enshrined in law including updating the 2018 Working Together to Safeguard Children Statutory Guidance in accordance with the request from the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, and to implement the other findings of her Annual Report in particular around effective access to support, accommodation, work and education for victims of modern slavery;
c. encourage all dioceses, deaneries, and parishes in the Church of England to raise awareness of modern slavery in our communities in the UK and internationally, working with the resources from partners such as the Church of England’s Clewer Initiative and others, helping individuals and congregations to address this evil by:
i. seeking to identify potential victims of modern slavery in the community, and
ii. offering services to victims and survivors,
iii. supporting organisations which already provide services to help people leaving exploitation and/or with preventative work;
d. encourages dioceses, safeguarding leads, and training institutions and organisations in using resources like these within existing training, especially where individuals hold roles in authorised ministry, embedding understanding of modern slavery and equipping them with ways to respond;
e. ask that the issues of challenging human trafficking and modern slavery are raised at the global gathering of bishops of the Anglican Communion at the 2022 Lambeth Conference, and that the conference consider the international Church’s role in tackling injustice and violence around the world and address the factors which create vulnerability to exploitation; and
f. call on all individuals to pray regularly for victims and survivors of modern slavery and for those organisations working to help and support them both in the UK and overseas, that we may come closer to fulfilling Jesus’ injunction to “proclaim release to the captives.”

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