Skip to main content

What is Child Abuse?

Safeguarding African Children in the UK Series

According to the 2001 census, there are over 587,000 Africans in the UK. This figure is way underrepresented since it excludes a number of groups, for example those who are resident in the UK illegally, or who are homeless and therefore unregistered. Of this figure, 78% of Africans live in London. Africans are the fastest growing ethnic minority in the UK, overtaking African Caribbeans and other groups. In addition to this, the number of African children in the UK grew from around 96,667 in 1992 to about 145,667 in 2000 – a phenomenal 50% increase in an eight year period. In 2003, 41% of asylum applications were from Africa, especially those from conflict zones such as Sierra Leone, Somalia, Angola, Congo, Eritrea, Zimbabwe, and Liberia.

This rapid increase in the population brings correlating social problems with significant implications for the children in the communities. As with most migrant groups, social exclusion and poverty are rife among newly arrived African communities. There is a high level of unemployment and underemployment, because new arrivals tend to find it difficult to access good quality paid jobs, despite Africans having one of the highest levels of educational qualifications as an ethnic group. Also, as many new migrants lack access to decent housing; a high proportion of Africans live in the poorest urban areas, on neglected and deprived council estates, in Britain’s largest cities, including London, Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester. In addition to this, Africans have the lowest rate of home ownership in the country. The combination of all of these problems often results in an increase in health problems, which includes high blood pressure and a range of mental health problems. To compound this, access to health and social care is also poor, partly because many people cannot access state care due to their immigration status. In some communities, substance abuse is becoming quite rampant, with a high proportion of the adult male population at risk.

Furthermore, lack of stability and uncertainty about immigration status and general dire living conditions puts pressure on many families leading to problems including domestic violence. This in turn is putting more children at risk as victims of abuse. Despite all these difficulties and challenges facing them, Africans are one of the most hardworking and diligent groups in Britain today. It is common to see many people combining two or three jobs to make ends meet. Africans are also one of the largest ethnic groups in higher education, and many higher learning institutions have a high proportion of African students.

This aspiration for educational attainment is a tradition that is instilled in Africans from the earliest age. Regardless of socio-economic class, all Africans are raised with a hunger for achievement and a reverence for education. Unfortunately, in recent times, the idea of education as the key to a good quality adult life has been defeated by conflict, massive corruption and mismanagement in many African countries which has led to a huge levels of graduate unemployment, poverty, destitution and subsequently the urge to migrate to better climes to discover that elusive “better life”.

Immigration however does not happen in a vacuum as people tend to take their practices, beliefs, customs and cultures with them when they migrate. Increasingly Local Authorities across the country are reporting cases of African families coming to the attention of Children’s Services mainly due to different child rearing practices which conflict with the laws of the land. Many African children are being removed from their families because they are seen as being at risk of significant harm. Cultural practices like Female Genital Mutilation, the use of children as domestic servants as well as witchcraft branding are seen as putting children at risk of abuse. For this reason, more children are being lost to the care system, leading to more African families being broken up and fragmented.

AFRUCA has produced the “Safeguarding Africans Children in the UK” series of publications to highlight different safeguarding issues and to assist members of the African community in the UK to know more about different forms of child abuse and how to identify the signs so children can be safe and be better protected.