By the late 1990s and early 2000s, hundreds of children from West Africa were entering Britain and Europe every year under private fostering arrangements. The educational and personal development opportunities available to youngsters outside their home countries meant their families often sacrificed raising their children temporarily, to give them a better life elsewhere. Under this common tradition, a child usually lived with someone who was trusted, such as a family member who was already an EU or British resident or a citizen. In a way, it was the African equivalent to British parents sending their children away to elite boarding schools. And there was a convenient loophole, in Britain at least. Given the informality of these arrangements, any person who became a child’s primary guardian was not required to register as a foster parent. This meant there was therefore less monitoring of a child’s care under such an arrangement.
In a developed country like Britain, African parents were confident their children were in good hands. They were hopeful that their offspring would forge new friendships, thrive in a far more equitable school environment, and enjoy creature comforts they wouldn’t otherwise have been able to experience. And after all, children were always safest with family members, no matter how distant the blood ties. This is what the family of 7 year old Victoria Climbie thought when they sent her to France with her great aunt in 1998. Surely in Europe, Victoria would have a better life.
CW: extreme child abuse, family violence, self harm
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