Archive for the ‘England’ Category

Research into ‘honour-based’ violence (HBV) and killings in Iraqi Kurdistan and the UK by Professor Aisha Gill (Roehampton University) with colleagues from Bristol University has earned plaudits from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the UN.

Criminologist Dr Aisha Gill has called for an urgent consolidation of the legal provisions for robust legal, policing and prosecution procedures in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The new research by researchers at University of Bristol and Roehampton University, has found a need for dedicated service and policy development to demonstrate that the issue is taken seriously and that ‘honour’ based violence (HBV) and killings are no longer acceptable in the way that they may have been in the past.

Researchers from the Centre for Research on Gender and Violence, University of Bristol and Roehampton University are calling on the Kurdish Regional Government in Northern Iraq and the Coalition Government in the UK urgently to address violence against women in the name of ‘honour’ in response to a growing concern about alarming levels of violence against women and girls in Kurdish communities.

Dr Gill, Project Manager for the UK section of the research, said: “States across the world have duties under international law to respect, protect and support women’s rights, including taking steps to tackle violence against women.

“Although abuses that occur in the private sphere, such as so-called ‘honour’ killings, are crimes under the domestic laws of most countries, many states around the world continue to fail to demonstrate due diligence in this regard. Even now in the 21st Century, they still fail to prevent or investigate all such crimes, and fail to hold perpetrators to account.

“Thus, although legislation exists to protect women in theory, social tolerance of violence, cultural norms and a lack of political will often combine to nullify the law in practice. Further, cultural practices that have the effect of rendering women “invisible” create the conditions in which they suffer “invisible violence”, and may allow violators to act with impunity.”

Research from women’s organisations working closely with victims and survivors of HBV in Northern Iraq and in the Kurdish Diaspora, highlights the need for ongoing training and support, improved prosecution of individual perpetrators and support projects for victims, together with comprehensive awareness-raising and public education in culturally sensitive ways.

Dr Aisha Gill said: “Our findings call for improved international response. Globally, all states must ensure that victims who have encountered this form of gendered violence and those who have been threatened with or experienced HBV, receive immediate, confidential and comprehensive assistance, including access to legal help, and psychological and social support.”

Minister for the Middle East Alistair Burt joined Dr Gill in Iraq to discuss her research and said he was pleased to add his support to this comprehensive study on the honour-based violence (HBV) and honour-based killings in Iraqi-Kurdistan and in the Kurdish Diaspora in the UK.

“Honour crimes have no place in a modern society and I have been heartened by the Kurdistan Regional Government’s efforts to crack down on them. No matter how unacceptable, traditions will always be difficult to change. Dealing with these crimes requires courage and determination and I welcome the KRG’s leadership and commitment to bring an end to impunity in this area. I am proud that, through Roehampton and Bristol Universities, the UK is supporting such crucial work,” he said.

“This report marks an important step. The recommendations offer a roadmap to combating honour-based violence in Iraqi Kurdistan. The UK will continue to work with the Kurdistan Regional Government in realising this goal.”

Details of the project in both English and Kurdish are available from Dr Aisha Gill.

Linda Carty, 50, was sentenced to death in 2002 for her part in abducting and killing a 25-year-old woman, but claims she was framed.

A recorded plea from Carty was played aloud from the plinth. (play

The Foreign Office said it had made a number of representations on her behalf to the US government.

Carty’s supporters erected a cardboard cut-out of her on the plinth, which is being used for temporary live statues in the London square.

They played the recording she made in the Texas jail where, if appeals fail, she will be put to death by lethal injection.

At the same time, campaigner Brian Capaloff, 46, from Falkirk, Stirlingshire, held up pieces of cardboard featuring extracts from her plea.

In the message, she stated: “Time is now running out and I appeal to every one of you and to the British government to please help me.”

She added: “I’m sorry if I sound like a desperate woman. I am desperate, because the British people may be my last hope. If they ask for my life to be spared, maybe Texas will listen.”

Legal charity Reprieve described Carty as the most at-risk British national they are following. It is thought her execution could take place as early as next summer.

Speaking from her Texas prison, Carty said she was hopeful that her appeal, currently lodged with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, would be successful.

Asked if she thought Prime Minister Gordon Brown could assert more pressure, she said: “He has to. You cannot sit passively by and, because you have a good relationship with the US, say ‘I don’t want to rock the boat’.

“You are talking about somebody’s life here. He has to get up and say ‘I am not going to allow you to kill this lady’.”

Clive Stafford-Smith, director of legal charity Reprieve, said: “Linda Carty’s speech to Trafalgar Square shows that she is a terrified woman, and with good reason. Texas plans to kill her by lethal injection, which is a painful and lonely death.

“The British government must do everything in its power to prevent Linda’s death.”

Carty was convicted in connection to the kidnap and murder of Joana Rodriguez, who was seized with her four-day-old son by three men on 16 May 2001.

But she says she was framed by three men in revenge for her work as an informant with a Drug Enforcement Agency.

Campaigners claim there were a number of defence failings during the trial.

The Foreign Office said that it had made its “usual representations” against the death penalty and that it had registered a complaint with the US Appeals Court about not being informed when Me Carty was first arrested.

A Foreign Office statement said: “We are resolutely opposed to the use of the death penalty.

“Our prime concern is to avoid the execution of British nationals.

“We have made a number of representations to the US Government, on this case and others, concerning our view on the death penalty. The US are fully aware of HMG’s stance on the death penalty.”

A spokesman for the British Consulate-General in Houston said the consulate remained in “close contact” with Carty and her legal representation in the US and UK, and would continue to provide Carty with consular assistance.

Carty has British dependent territory citizenship because she was born on the island of St Kitts, in the Caribbean, to Anguillan parents.

See also:
* Linda Carty interview
In an interview given in prison in Texas, she maintained her innocence and said circumstances had counted against her. Can be viewed at

Following feedback from users we set up the blog womensgrid to focus on information by and about women from around the UK and Ireland (and any European items that seem relevant).

So to see the latest UK and Ireland posting go to

(see original annoucement at

Posting moved to womensgrid: Funny Women Awards 2008

Posting moved to womesngrid:

Many thanks to everyone who has taken part in our survey “A Women’s Agenda for the Local Elections May 2008” but …

… if you only voted on the opening question about funding women’s core services and did NOT go to the end of the survey and click on “submit survey” your opinions will not be included.

So please can you find the time to go back to the survey and make sure that you click through to the last page and click on the button to submit your survey.

And for anyone who hasn’t yet taken the survey please add your opinions not only about funding women’s core services but also about the issues that are important to you in your local area.

Survey closes tomorrow – Tuesday 29th at 4pm – many thanks.

To take the survey or validate your earlier answers go to

Many thanks!
Women in London


WBG Responses – HM Treasury’s Budget 2008

We welcome the emphasis of this Budget on efforts to end child poverty. However, we are disappointed that you did not take the opportunity to address the acute and chronic funding crisis in sexual and domestic violence services within the women’s voluntary sector. In the last 10 years rape crisis centres have been closing, leaving many women with nowhere to turn. As less than 10% of rapes are reported to the criminal justice system, non-statutory provision represents an essential and trusted source of support for women. While we welcome the announcement of the March 19th of a one-off injection of funds into rape crisis centres, we would have welcomed an acknowledgement of this in the budget, together with a clear commitment to sustainable funding for rape crisis centres and other women-only support services for violence against women. We have set out below the key issues on which we wish to comment in detail.

Download from

The WBG brings together feminist economists, researchers, policy experts and activists to work towards our vision of a gender equal society in which women’s financial independence gives them greater autonomy at work, home, and in civil society.

We work towards this by:
* developing analysis and leading debate on:
* the gender implications of economic policy
* the social dimensions of economic policy
* incorporating a consideration of the unpaid economy into economic policy
* how economic policy might free women and men from stereotypes
* raising awareness and expanding understanding within the UK Ministry of Finance and other policy makers and opinion formers on the gender implications of economic policy
* promoting, encouraging and enabling the use of gender mainstreaming and in particular gender budget analysis
* contributing to and learning from international learning and progress on the applicaion of gender budget analysis

Our two main activities are:
* collating expertise from a range of individuals and organisations in order to influence and inform government policy (see Reports and Responses)
* working with Her Majesty’s Treasury to develop a gender budget for the UK (see Gender Budget Analysis)

Vote Match UK – London Mayoral and Assembly Elections

Unlock Democracy has teamed up with the Netherlands-based Instituut voor Publiek en Politiek (IPP) to launch Vote Match UK. Our first project will be based around the 2008 London Mayoral and Assembly elections. We hope to continue this with future UK elections including 2009’s European Parliament elections and the next general election.

Vote Match is a short quiz that voters can fill in to match their views with the views of the election candidates. In the interests of minimising any unintended biases, the tool is intended to be as transparent as possible:
* Candidates and parties will be asked to provide their own answers based on their own published policy.
* Users can include and/or exclude parties and candidates from the survey as they see fit and add extra weight to those issues which they consider to be important.
* The website does not simply give you an answer – it shows you how the results are calculated.
* Vote Match is not about telling people how to vote and we do not support any political party. Rather, it is about encouraging voters to consider which issues are important and informing them about where the parties and candidates stand.

IPP have been developing Vote Match (known as Stemwijzer in the Netherlands) since 1988, originally in book form. In the last Dutch elections, an estimated 35% of the electorate used their website. As well as the Netherlands, Vote Matches have been developed for the German, French, Bulgarian and Swiss elections (see links sidebar). Surveys in the Netherlands and Germany found that 80% found it to be a trustworthy tool.

Vote Match can also help to boost turnout. Of the people who used the Dutch and German websites and did not intend to vote, 10-15% went on to do so.

If you live in London and want to try out this quiz go to


Unlock Democracy is the UK’s leading campaign for democratic reform. Established in 2007 following the merger of Charter 88 and the New Politics Network, we argue and campaign for a vibrant, inclusive democracy that puts power in the hands of the people.

As well as campaigning, we exist to promote:
* a new culture of informed political interest and responsibility, paving the way for increased enthusiastic public participation
* a pluralist democracy that is responsive to the problems and aspirations of all people, valuing and accommodating difference, diversity and universal human rights. Everyone has the right to live their life in dignity under the law, and free from fear.

Unlock Democracy is a non-aligned organisation, committed to working inclusively across the political spectrum.

We see Vote Match as a valuable tool in achieving these ends.


The premise of Unlock Democracy is simple: far too much power is locked up in the hands of far too few people. In particular, we want to:

Unlock Government: the combination of the inherited powers of feudal monarchs, modern media’s concentration on the Prime Minster and overuse of the party whip has turned Britain in to one of the most centralised countries in Europe. Governments have become locked in a vicious circle of centralising power in an effort to improve public services, only to find this leads to increased dissatisfaction. The quango state – unelected and unaccountable bodies which have a direct impact on ordinary people’s lives – has become a common feature of our political life.

Unlock the Constitution: despite advances such as the creation of the Human Rights Act, a simple majority in the House of Commons can curtail our rights and freedoms by changing our unwritten constitution. At a time of heightened security and fear of terrorism we believe that Britain needs a new constitutional settlement in which basic rights and freedoms are entrenched.

Unlock Political Parties: representative democracy is in long-term decline. However, instead of simply taking the populist stance that polticial parties are part of the problem, we need to recognise the important role they play in connecting the vast majority of voters to our political system. Unlock Democracy will be a critical friend of the political party: while being honest about its limitations, we will embrace its potential for encouraging greater participation. This means reforming the way parties are funded to incentivise meaningful engagement and talking up party activity as a public good rather than some sort of anti social behaviour.

Unlock Decision-making: participation is about more than consultation. Nothing encourages cynicism more than a public body asking for views on an issue that has already been decided upon. The public should be given a real say in issues that concern them, using tools that provide genuine engagement such as Citizens’ Juries. But such tools are expensive and can only involve a limited number of people at any one time. Citizens should be given the right to petition for Parliamentary debates, public inquiries and, where necessary, referendums on issues that concern them.

Unlock Democracy will continue campaign for individual reforms such as a predominantly elected Second Chamber and initiatives such as the Sustainable Communities Act, and will play our part in reskilling the political process by holding events such as People and Politics Day. Ultimately however, we have three main goals in mind:
* A Citizens’ Convention: the UK needs a Constitutional Convention look at how the various tiers of government work together and to consider the entrenchment of basic rights and freedoms. However, such a convention must not be made up of the Great and Good. It needs to be created and agreed by the citizens of the United Kingdom because ultimately it is their freedoms and interests which it will serve and protect.
* Electoral Reform: the first-past-the-post electoral system, still used for the House of Commons and for local elections in England and Wales, is bust. We need a fair, open and proportional voting system that better serves our multi-party system.
* More direct decision making: we need to investigate new ways to enable members of the public to set the political agenda by petitioning for a specific proposal which under certain circumstances might lead to a referendum if there was sufficient demand for one.
* Unlock Democracy will work closely with any individual or organisation which shares our desire to unlock power and to change the nature of British democracy. Furthermore, as a membership organisation, we practice what we preach: by joining both or either organisations you will be given a say in and a vote on what our priorities should be.

(The costs of Vote Match are being underwritten by Unlock Democracy. Unlock Democracy is grateful for a £5,000 grant from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust Ltd. to help fund this project. We welcome donations from individuals.)

For more information about Unlock Democracy and our work contact:
Unlock Democracy, 6 Cynthia Street, London N1 9JF.
Tel: 020 7278 4443.

Is there a Women’s Agenda for the Local Elections – should there be?

Women are dying to look perfect.

Literally. Last year’s toll included a music promoter who expired on the operating table while undergoing cosmetic surgery, and a couple of fashion models who starved themselves to death. High profile enough to have made headlines, these women may represent just a fast glimpse of the beauty industry’s dark lining.

But they have no one but themselves to blame for the risky lifestyle choices they made in pursuit of looking good. Or do they?

The U.K. Periodical Publishers Association has launched an inquiry into the pervasive practice of digitally enhancing photographs. The initiative was inspired by a report commissioned by the British Fashion Council into the industry’s regrettable influence on women’s body image. And the council’s report? It was prompted by public outrage over the death of the models and the destructive definition of ideal femininity perpetuated by fashion media.

It should be an old story. Women’s groups have been protesting unattainable beauty standards for decades. Here in Canada, Media Watch spent more than 25 years conducting research, delivering educational seminars, meeting with regulators and mobilizing consumers around the need for more responsible media portrayals.

Despite such activism, and greater public awareness, some aspects of the situation have gotten worse, not better. Magazine cover stories sensationalize celebrity crimes against body image every week; reality TV shows regularly invent new ways to exploit women’s insecurities; and the digital distortion of Photo-shopped images fuels exponential growth in cosmetic surgery procedures, despite the health risks attached to many.

So the move by British magazine publishers to explore the development of an ethics code on retouching is long overdue. Why shouldn’t magazines be held to the same ethical standards that newspapers follow? Consumers have a right to expect authenticity from the photos they disseminate. If we can’t trust that the images we’re looking at reflect reality, why should we credit the words that appear alongside them with any greater truth?

An even more compelling case can be made for the images that appear in ads. When cosmetic companies claim that their lotions and creams will reduce the appearance of wrinkles and cellulite, it’s reasonable to expect that the photographs purporting to illustrate such results have not been altered. How is “truth in advertising” served when models promoting dietary aides and foundation makeup have achieved their slim silhouettes and flawless complexions with the help of an airbrush artist?

The increasingly popular trend among supermarket tabloids to feature undoctored images of makeup-free celebrities looking shockingly ordinary offers the welcome relief of a little Schadenfreude – being reminded that not even Halle Berry looks like Halle Berry without digital enhancement reassures us about our own imperfections. And the staggering success of Dove’s campaign for “real beauty” underscores the appeal of authentic imagery.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. A growing body of research documents the damage done by increasingly unattainable physical ideals on the self-esteem of young girls and adult women alike. The punishing comparisons with perfection help to trigger anorexia in those predisposed to it, and health professionals are clear that commercial media images are significant contributing factors to depression, bulimia and the skyrocketing increase in cosmetic surgery procedures.

The good news is that avoiding exposure to such imagery can have a remarkably positive impact on the way women feel about themselves. And when people become more aware of this, they’re increasingly likely to either press for the kind of responsibility being considered in the U.K., or to stop buying the magazines entirely.

Consider the views of the fashion industry’s most sought-after target market. Last year, with the professional assistance of EKOS Research, Media Watch – recently renamed Media Action/Action Media – conducted focus groups with young women from across Canada who were asked their impressions of the dominant image of women in popular media.

“Skinny,” “sleazy” and “stupid” were the representative adjectives volunteered by the 14- to 24-year-olds who were canvassed in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver. All the young women expressed universal frustration with pervasive images of “flawless” female bodies (read slim and large breasted), and the disproportionate attention seemingly paid to those women eager to minimize the amount of fabric between their skin and the camera.

While current media practices unfortunately suggest that Media Action remains as relevant today as it was 25 years ago, the savvy cynicism and growing trend among young women to create their own alternative media content is fuelling renewed activism and – hopefully – much needed change.

PPA working group on digital enhancements

Travellers who have suffered domestic violence are being asked if they would prefer a women’s refuge in a caravan rather than a building, it emerged today.

A branch of the domestic violence charity Women’s Aid is looking at providing a trailer or chalet-style facility in the garden of an existing refuge to improve services for travellers and gypsies.

It has set up an online survey to gather travellers’ views about the proposals.

The survey is funded by the Supporting People initiative run by the Department for Communities and Local Government.

The plan, revealed in the national traveller, gypsy and Roma magazine Travellers’ Times, is also examining whether more women from the community should be encouraged to work with groups like Women’s Aid.

One traveller who has suffered domestic violence, identified only as “Annie”, told the magazine: “If I’d never lived in a house in the first place, I would not want to go into a house refuge.”

The Women’s Aid survey asks: “Would you want to stay in a refuge that had a secure mobile home/caravan in the garden for a gypsy/traveller woman and her children?”

It adds: “This survey is for gypsy/traveller women that have experienced domestic violence and may have used support services. It has been created to try to address the fact that traveller women may not be getting the service that they require or which meets their cultural needs.”

The plan has been put forward by West Mercia’s branch of Women’s Aid. Spokeswoman Sharne Maher said: “On average a woman will go through 12 agencies before finding a refuge. A woman from an ethnic minority background will have to work her way through about 17. We worry that some women simply give up trying.”

* Cost of violence to women estimated at £40bn a year
* Government ‘should make effort to change attitudes’

The British public gives more to a Devon-based donkey sanctuary than the most prominent charities trying to combat violence and abuse against women, a report released today by a leading philanthropy watchdog reveals.

New Philanthropy Capital (NPC) has calculated that more than 7 million women have been affected by domestic violence but found that Refuge, the Women’s Aid Federation and Eaves Housing for Women have a combined annual income of just £17m. By contrast the Donkey Sanctuary, which has looked after 12,000 donkeys, received £20m in 2006.

NPC estimates the cost to society of domestic abuse, sexual violence, forced marriage, trafficking and honour crimes has reached £40bn a year – greater than the country’s defence budget.

“As a society we are not spending enough on this issue whether through charities or the government,” said Justine Järvinen, the author of the report. “Violence against women appears regularly as the subject of media reports and in the storylines of soap operas but rarely does it come up in normal conversation, which suggests there is a stigma around it. The truth is it is very common.”

Every year 1.5 million women experience domestic abuse at least once, 800,000 are sexually assaulted and 100,000 raped, the report states. More than one in four women has experienced at least one incident of domestic violence by a current or former partner, which means 7.4 million women in the UK have suffered domestic abuse, according to government figures.

The NPC was established by former executives of Goldman Sachs to analyse the effectiveness of charities for wealthy donors and has calculated the cost of this abuse at £40bn a year. This is made up of £10bn for the cost of lost economic output caused by abuse as well as the police work, court cases and psychological and physical healthcare arising from the abuse. Victims may also place greater demands on housing and benefit budgets if they have to move away, often with children, from a shared home with the abuser.

NPC has calculated the emotional cost of abuse of women is £30bn a year, using accepted measures devised by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence for translating emotional cost into financial cost. Sexual violence accounts for £26bn of the cost with domestic violence accounting for £20bn.

Prostitution, trafficking and violence against black and ethnic minority women accounts for the rest. “The government has a responsibility to change attitudes and prevent abuse from happening in the first place,” said Järvinen. “A third of men think that domestic violence is acceptable if their partner has been nagging them.”

Today’s report references an ICM poll which found that more people would call the police if someone was mistreating their dog than if someone was mistreating their partner. NPC is calling for concerted government action to tackle violence against women and is urging charitable donors to divert more to non-governmental organisations in the sector.

It said that the 200 largest charities which provide services for abused women or campaign to prevent abuse have a combined annual income of £97m. That compares with £110m for the RSPCA, £149m for the Royal National Lifeboat Institute and £83m for the Royal Opera House.

* Animal charities and rape crisis centres
* A cause well worth funding – The impact of domestic violence on black and minority ethnic women may be worse than for other women

Under current legislation, people who travel to Britain on marriage visas remain completely financially dependent on their partners for the first two years.


Anita’s story and the callous immigration rule that trapped her

At first glance Anita Jain looks and acts just like any other bright and confident 28-year-old woman. It’s only when she pulls back her sleeves to reveal the deep, angry scars running along her wrists that you realise Anita’s recent past has been anything but plain sailing.

For two years her husband beat her horrendously. So bad was the abuse that she was regularly hospitalised – on one occasion a nurse even found a footprint in the small of her back.

Helping any vulnerable woman escape from such a situation is depressingly difficult. But a particularly callous British immigration law means that, for people like Anita, finding a way out is even harder.

The problem is that although Anita, an Indian national, had come to Britain perfectly legally and was married to a British citizen she was forbidden from accessing any public money during her first two years in the country.

Story continues at—o.html


‘He Made Me Feel So Very Afraid’

When Jennifer moved to Grimsby to be with her British husband, she was hopeful about beginning a new future, with a new man, in a new home.

She often wondered if she was doing the right thing by leaving behind her friends and family in Africa, but pushed aside her reservations when she saw how eager her partner was to share his life with her and her daughter.

Several years later, and the optimism of those early days is replaced with the pessimism of bitter experience.

“There’s always regrets in life, but that’s how you learn,” said Jennifer. “Now, I’m saying ‘no’ to relationships forever. Some people are probably lucky, but I just think ‘no more.'”

To begin with, says Jennifer – a quiet and dignified woman in her 30s – her husband was nice and treated her well.

However, not long after moving to the town, he told her that British people are racist and would not like the fact that he had married a black woman.

From the beginning, Jennifer felt trapped. She was never allowed a key to the house, remained locked indoors all day, and had no access to money, food or clothing – unless it was provided by her husband.

He even insisted that they walk her daughter to school together rather than let her out of his sight for a minute.

She tried applying for jobs, but her husband posted the applications and potential employers mysteriously failed to respond.

Story continues at

* Report backs scrapping of free nursery places at three and four to fund universal allowance
* Mothers should be paid to stay at home if they want to when their children are young, according to a report launched by the Conservatives’ shadow minister for the family.

State help for families has been channelled under Labour into tax credits to pay for nurseries and childminders but what most mothers want is to work part-time or not at all, particularly when their children are under five, the controversial review by two leading academics for the think-tank Policy Exchange argues.

It argues mothers should be paid an allowance to spend either on formal childcare such as nurseries, informal care like grandparents helping out, or on subsidising a parent to stay at home. It argues the current free nursery places for three- and four-year-olds could be scrapped to fund the new allowance.

Worries about their children’s welfare are a bigger deterrent to women working than childcare costs, the report concludes, suggesting that making childcare cheaper will not solve their dilemma.

Maria Miller, the shadow family minister who will help launch the report, said she would study the findings closely. She admitted such a universal care allowance could be expensive, but added: ‘Support for families in the first three years is really still a neglected area of policy: great strides have been made in some areas but many women are still feeling that they have got really little choice in how they structure their family’s life.’

The findings will reopen passionate debate between stay-at-home and working mothers, and have attracted interest from senior Tories who argue they should be promoting mothers’ freedom to raise their families as they wish.

The National Day Nurseries’ Association, however, warned yesterday that a universal care allowance would be a ‘risky prospect’ leading parents into low quality, unregulated childcare by untrained people rather than settings that helped a child develop. Ministers have also argued that allowing tax credits to be spent on care by grandparents would be open to fraud.

The Policy Exchange report lambastes government for skewing family policy towards getting women out to work and cherry picking evidence which suits them, rather than accepting that many mothers would actively prefer to be at home – and that where parents do work, informal care like grandparents is often preferred to nurseries or childminders.

Research carried out by the Women’s Unit at the Cabinet Office in 1999 showed that ‘one third of women believed home and family were women’s main focus in life and that women should not try to combine a career and children’, the report notes – even though two thirds thought a job was a woman’s best route to independence.

It found that if money were no object, only 5 per cent of mothers would still work full-time, while three-quarters would prefer a part-time job and the rest would not work at all.

Yet ministers ‘used the findings selectively to support predetermined policy positions – in particular policies promoting paid work as women’s central life activity’, the report concludes.

The top three reasons cited by mothers for not working, in another survey commissioned from academics by the then Department for Education and Skills, were wanting to stay with their children, thinking the children were too young or that they would suffer if the mother worked. Only 10 per cent said it was because ‘I cannot afford quality childcare’, the report argues, concluding that affordability of childcare is ‘rarely the main problem for parents … The crucial factor is parental values.’

Miller admitted, however, that a package enabling all mothers to stay at home could be prohibitively expensive. ‘All too often people talk about women having a choice but in actual fact many families don’t have the choice: financial necessity means that they have to go back to work. It’s very difficult to envisage the programme that is going to take away that financial necessity for large numbers of people.

‘But what is exciting about the Policy Exchange report is that they are really questioning hard this overcentralised approach. They are also questioning this spending on subsidised childcare without recognising the contribution made by those who decide to take more time out.’

Parents’ childcare preferences not being met
Leading thinktank proposes universal childcare allowance

Parents in Britain still pay 70 per cent of their childcare costs compared to the European average of 30 per cent. This is in spite of a decade of intensive reform and total spending of £17 billion from 1997 to 2006 on services for young children. Nevertheless, according to ‘Little Britons’, a comprehensive new report into childcare choice for the leading thinktank Policy Exchange, parents’ preferences for childcare are not being met by the options currently available. The Government’s basic aim has been to encourage as many mothers as possible into paid work – and for children to be placed in formal childcare settings – but women would actually prefer, in many cases, for their children to be cared for in their own homes, the report concludes.

* Full Report
* Executive Summary

Violence against babies and young children in England and Wales more than doubled last year, a survey of accident and emergency unit data suggests.

The Cardiff University study indicates the number of under-10s who were hurt rose to 8,067 from 3,805 in 2006.

But it found violence against people of all ages fell by 12% overall, following a trend of the past eight years.

Researchers said the rise in injuries could be down to domestic incidents or violence between children.

BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw said the data showing an increase might turn out to be a one-off for last year.

But he added that children’s’ charity the NSPCC had described the survey’s findings as “deeply worrying”, and said hospitals and other agencies must work better to identify children at risk.

The NSPCC’s head of child protection awareness, Chris Cloke, said it was working closely with doctors and nurses to advise them on spotting deliberate injuries.

Cardiff University’s Violence and Research Group have been monitoring admissions for violence-related injuries in a representative sample of casualty units since the 1990s.

Its research into 29 hospital A&E units are extrapolated to national levels.

For the past eight years, the overall number of people needing treatment has been falling.

In 2007, victims aged over 18 saw the greatest fall in violence, and among over 50s there was a 17% decline. Those aged 18 to 30 remained at greatest risk, making up nearly half of violence-related patients.

It is the figures for children aged from birth to under 10 that have caused the greatest concern.

The report said: “It is not clear whether violence at the hands of parents or carers is responsible for this increase.

“Recent evidence suggests that violence between children at school and in public places is also a problem.

“In any event, the roles of child safeguarding agencies including the NHS, police and local authorities remain essential and should be enhanced.”

Maxillofacial surgeon Professor Jon Shepherd, who chairs the Cardiff group, said: “We would have expected levels among 11 to 17-year-old children to show a rise, because of the increases in youth violence that people have in the back of their minds.

“But that was not what we found.”

The figures were released on the same day the government’s latest quarterly crime figures for England and Wales are due to be published.

A Home Office spokesman said: “Any violent crime is intolerable particularly when it is directed against children.

“That is why the government’s recently published Tackling Violence Action Plan includes new resources for healthcare providers, local authorities and the police to share information to ensure that people at risk are protected and offenders are brought swiftly to justice.”

He noted the report found violence had fallen last year and the British Crime Survey showed incidents had decreased by 31% over the past 10 years.

Shadow home secretary David Davis said: “This is yet more evidence showing that violence is becoming an everyday part of life for younger and younger people under this government.”

* Rise in foreign youngsters missing from care in UK
* Government action plan ‘failing to protect victims’

More than 400 foreign children, many suspected of being trafficked into the sex or drug trade in Britain, have gone missing from local authority care.

Children from Africa, Asia and eastern Europe have disappeared from safe houses and foster homes around the country’s biggest ports and airports, figures released to the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act have revealed.

The missing children include at least 87 Chinese who disappeared from care around Heathrow and Gatwick and 68 from countries including Afghanistan, Albania and India who went missing from the care of Kent county council, which is responsible for protecting children trafficked through Dover and Folkestone.

Anti-trafficking campaigners believe the missing children are often taken from care by their trafficker and then exploited for prostitution, domestic servitude and other illegal activities. Other children escape out of fear of being found by the trafficker and without money or identity papers fall prey to further abuse and exploitation.

According to records from 16 local authorities around England’s ports and airports, an estimated 408 children disappeared between July 2004 and July 2007. They are known by officialdom as unaccompanied asylum seekers and child protection campaigners believe most have been trafficked.

It is thought that many escape only for traffickers to send them on for exploitation in other parts of the world, particularly Italy and Spain. Only 12 children have been traced and returned to care.

“We are shocked that the numbers keep rising,” said Christine Beddoe, the chief executive of ECPAT UK which campaigns for greater protection for trafficked children. “These figures come in spite of the government’s action plan on trafficking and show the need for an urgent inquiry into separated children who go missing. These vulnerable children need to be given independent guardians as soon as possible to ensure they are protected from traffickers who we know target them even while they are in care.”

Today local authorities on the front line of the illegal trade in children will tell ministers they need at least another £30m to continue offering the basic protections for unaccompanied asylum seekers under 18. ECPAT UK also wants the government to appoint an independent “rapporteur” who can work out the true extent of the problem. The last government estimate put the number of missing trafficked children at 183, which now seems low.

A spokeswoman for the Home Office said: “We are concerned about the number of children who go missing from local authority care each year who appear to have been trafficked. That is why we intend to identify a group of “specialist” local authorities which have effective procedures to keep children safe and to identify and provide proper services for the victims of trafficking. We intend to channel all cases to these authorities from around the country.”

According to the figures obtained by the Guardian, Newcastle city council reported 12 Somali children missing and said 13 of the 17 Chinese children it has taken into care have disappeared. Officials at Suffolk county council said they find unaccompanied children arriving in shipping containers and in the backs of lorries travelling through Felixstowe. They admitted losing track of 16 children since March 2005, including six Afghans. The worst record was at the London Borough of Hillingdon which estimates it is dealing with 1,000 unaccompanied minors a year, coming mostly through Heathrow airport.

The council said 74 went missing between 2006 and 2007 and it does not know how many it lost in the previous years. Despite a system of safe houses for the 145 children who came into the care of West Sussex, which includes Gatwick airport, 42 went missing, largely Chinese and Nigerians.

“As soon as they can they will contact their trafficker,” said Kirsty Hanna, manager of the Gatwick children’s team. “It could be they have memorised the trafficker’s mobile number, or the trafficker may have followed them to the safe house. There have been times when they have jumped out of the window. They are under a lot of pressure, often to pay back their passage. Their families back home could be threatened with torture or murder. We are constantly trying to disrupt the traffickers, but it has to be a losing battle if we can’t stop the problems abroad that causes the trafficking.”

ECPAT UK is calling for an urgent inquiry by the UK Government to investigate the large numbers of suspected or known trafficked children who go missing from local authority care each year.

It is expected MPs will get a vote on cutting the 24-week limit – possibly to 20 weeks – in an amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

It would be the first time politicians have had a chance to vote on the issue since 1990. And the prospect has prompted campaigners on both sides of the debate to start lobbying MPs.

A parliamentary campaign, involving celebrities and MPs, is being launched to keep the limit at 24 weeks. It comes after suggestions MPs will table amendments to the bill when it is next before parliament, probably at the end of May.

The 20-week amendment is likely to be tabled by Tory Nadine Dorries(*), a former nurse, although there is talk of a second amendment being tabled proposing an even lower limit.

They are being supported by Alive and Kicking, an umbrella group of pro-life organisations. Julia Millington, the group’s spokeswoman, said they wanted to see the time limit reduced to as low as possible.

“We will support any amendments to the bill which will help us reach our short-term objective of halving the number of abortions in this country.”

However, a cross-party group of MPs is seeking to safeguard the current arrangements. They have received support from celebrities such as comedian Jo Brand.

Lib Dem MP Dr Evan Harris, a former hospital doctor, said: “The medical community is clear that there is no medical or scientific basis for any reduction in the current time limit.”

Leading medical organisations, including the British Medical Association and Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, have come out in favour of the 24-week limit, pointing out there has been no significant improvements in survival before 24 weeks.

The recent Epicure 2 study, a major review of all live very early births in 2006, confirms this, although it said there had been improvements in the 24 to 25-week period in the last 10 years. Of those that are born at 23 weeks, 40% will die in the labour ward, the study found.

Pro-choice MPs are also expected to put forward a proposal to relax abortion laws by scrapping the need for two doctors to agree to a termination and allowing nurses to carry them out in the early stages.

MPs will be given a free vote on any abortion-related amendments.

(*) Thatcherite from Anfield to lead abortion battle
Nadine Dorries is the girl from the Liverpool council estate in Anfield who grew up to be a Conservative MP and a lone Scouse voice in a party still dominated by Old Etonians.

A ‘rapid expansion’ of lap-dancing clubs across the UK has been allowed by the government despite concerns about links with prostitution and human trafficking, according to an influential report to be issued this week.

A coalition of MPs, peers, government advisers and think-tanks says that lap dancing has exploited the 2005 Licensing Act – a flagship piece of government legislation – allowing hundreds of new clubs to open in the face of opposition from councils, residents and police.

The result is that there are now more than 300 in the UK, with applications to open scores more. The small town of Stourbridge in the West Midlands has five pubs but two lap-dancing clubs. Along Hackney Road in east London there are now five lap-dancing clubs within a mile.

Object, the campaign calling for a change in the law to have lap-dancing clubs reclassified as ‘sex encounter establishments’ and therefore subject to tighter regulation, blames a loophole in the legislation which has put lap-dancing clubs in the same category as cafes, karaoke bars and pubs, making it relatively easy to obtain licences.

This week’s report highlights the link between lap dancing and criminality, citing research that links clubs to prostitution and human trafficking.

The proliferation of lap-dancing clubs, adds the report, has fuelled an ‘increased demand for the purchase of sex’ while encouraging ‘factors driving human trafficking flows’.

The man who destroyed “Alicia’s” life couldn’t have done it without the hundreds of others who were willing to pay him to have sex with her.

She grew up in Uganda, where she was harassed by police and jailed because of her Rwandan ethnic background. Desperate to get out of the country, she met a man who offered to take her to London for 1,000 pounds ($1,975).

He seemed respectable and promised to provide her with documents. She could easily find a job as a receptionist, and could pay him back, he said.

When they arrived in Britain, he took her to an apartment in a row of terraced houses in a south London suburb and locked her inside. She knew nobody.

“He would lock the house and go. I asked myself: even if you left, where would you go? A huge big country. And the only person I know is him,” she told Reuters in an interview, asking that a pseudonym be used in place of her name.

“On the fourth day, he came and demanded sex from me. When I refused, he forced himself on me and raped me. Two weeks later, he started bringing in a ‘friend’.

“At first I thought they really were friends. And then I realised, they would be in the other room and they would be shouting over money, and I realised there was more to ‘friend’ than I thought.”

Night after night, six or eight men had sex with her while her trafficker collected their money in the next room.

“If you are resisting it becomes hard on you, because they are rough. They manhandle you. I would just go through with it and then it was over.”

Her trafficker warned her never to speak about her ordeal. “To me he was like this god. I can get anything through him, as long as I never say what happened in that house.”

Does she think clients understood she was a prisoner?

“I don’t think they would have come back. If they really knew. But it’s not their concern at the end of the day: you’ve paid your money, and you got what you are paying for.”

She adds: “I think they knew. If you pay your money and you go into a place like this, you have to know. I can’t believe how blind people are. How can it go on in such a country?”

One of the men offered her his business card, apparently an offer of help, but she was too scared to take it.

“You always think: if I had been stronger, if I had talked out, if I had screamed to the outside world, maybe they would hear.”

Eventually her trafficker began bringing her to a night club, where she was put to work behind the bar. He collected her wages and brought her back to the apartment each night.

She persuaded a customer at the bar to help her escape. The customer met her outside and brought her to his apartment. She thought she was safe, but her trafficker tracked her down and brought her back.

“When we reached home, he really beat me. I think that was the worst time, beating and kicking like you are a piece of furniture.”

After 11 months, with little explanation, her captor gave her a fake French passport and set her free. She was caught by police and jailed for possessing the fake document.

She discovered she was infected with HIV and attempted suicide in jail, but now she says she wants to keep fighting.

“My thoughts were: I just wanted to kill myself. But now I am thinking it’s worth it to be alive.”