Govanhill: Scotland’s Capital of Child Exploitation

On the 1st May 2004, the European Union expanded its membership, with the simultaneous accession of 10 countries, commonly known as the “A10” countries. This group consisted of: Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. Subsequently, after a failed attempt of joining the EU in 2004, Bulgaria and Romania were also granted membership in 2007. This prompted a large population movement in Europe, where by many of the former Eastern Bloc citizens, sought better employment prospects in countries like France, Germany and the U.K.

Cities like Glasgow in Scotland, which are known for their welcoming attitude towards migrants, attracted the movements of people who no longer felt welcome in their own countries, rejected by the populations of Slovakia and Romania.

Since the influx of Roma travelers in to Glasgow, one of the areas that has attracted them has been the area of Govanhill, in the South East of the city. Over the next few years, the area began to show obvious signs of an increase crime and deprivation.

By 2011, Govanhill was considered to be the most violent area in Glasgow, with serious assault figures climbing from 43 in 2010 to 62, the following year.

In December 2012, the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) and other sources found that;

– 32.8% of adults in the area did not have any qualifications
– The life expectancy in the area was about 4 years less than the Scottish average
– Violent crime was 159% above the national average, with domestic abuse incidents and drug misuse offences 45% and 73% above respectively.

These issues brought about a dip in the house prices in the area, meaning that many people were unable to sell their houses and move out of the area, prompting a large number of empty properties, allowing many more Roma migrants to occupy them and swelling the population.

Fast forward to a report made by the Scottish Government: “The Roma Community in Scotland 2016”. It put the number of Roma travelers within Scotland at between 5000-6000. Of that number approximately 3500 now lived in Govanhill.

Unfortunately this brought a great deal of negative media coverage for  head of the Scottish National Party and First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon. She is currently the Member of Scottish Parliament (MSP) responsible for the area and has been since 2007. As a result, she has been in the firing line for most of the criticism by residents and the media.

In recent years however, a new issue has bubbled to the surface, which has been highlighted again and again by the local press.
Recently there has been a great deal of publicity around the “Asian Grooming Gangs” within several English cities. This has been largely hushed until now, due to fears by the councils of being branded as racist.

The issue in Govanhill is, however, not a group of Asian men preying on predominantly white females, but Roma families hiring out their own children for sex.

In 2007, a Strathclyde police statement confirmed that 6 instances of child abuse had been reported. Local residents state the practice has been going on for decades but authorities have failed to take action for ‘fear of being branded racist’. Children as young as 12 are reportedly been sold for sex by their parents, to assist them with financial difficulties.

However, a local Roma community group has been quick to condemn these claims. Friends of Romano Lav (FoRL) state that the claims are “deeply concerning” because of lack of evidence.

They stated: “Issues of child protection should not be racialised as this is unhelpful and damaging to community relations and cohesion. If supported and credible evidence exists of illegal activity – and we are very sceptical about this fact – it should be taken directly to the Police, not to news reporters. Such reporting in the mainstream media is harmful to ongoing community development work in the local area groups like FoRL.”

Police officers who work in the area, must also contest with the issue that many of the Roma families within Govanhill either do not speak English, or pretend that they are unable to. This means that intelligence collection, which is one of the best tools for crime detection, is difficult.
A request under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, was made in July 2017 to Police Scotland. This showed the crime statistics between the 1st of January 2017 and the 31st of July 2017.
The number of offences committed in the 7 brackets that Police Scotland have broken crimes down in to, totaled 785.
Interestingly, the crimes within Group 2 (Sexual offences) were not broken down and were simply totaled at 18 offences.

In November 2017,  Scottish Government spokesman stated: “These are deeply concerning claims and anyone with evidence of suspected crimes should be encouraged to contact the police in the first instance.

“Keeping children safe from abuse and exploitation is a key priority for the Scottish Government and we fully support the work of social services and Police Scotland to identify children at risk of harm and tackle those who prey on them.

“New powers to tackle human trafficking and exploitation in Scotland came into effect earlier this year. Scotland’s agencies work tirelessly to tackle all forms of child sexual abuse and it is important that perpetrators know that exploitation in any form will never be tolerated in Scotland.

“Everyone has a responsibility to protect the most vulnerable in society including through reporting signs of child exploitation and abuse so it can be stopped.”

It would seem that Govanhill is experiencing some very dark issues within its many dingy, dirty flats. However, until the Government steps up it’s commitment to tackling the problem and providing the police with more resources, the reports will continue to tarnish Glasgow as a city quickly becoming a capital of child sexual exploitation.