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The Independent Culture
The government has been proudly telling anyone who votes over the last week or so about how, thanks to its policies, the country is now awash with inward investment. Mainly from South-East Asia, this business, the Tories claim, has largely been generated because, not being bound by the European Community's social chapter, employers here have few of the social expenses incurred on the continent. And if you want proof that the government's policy of letting the entrepreneurs thrive by not wasting money on social provision really does work, then Dispatches (C4) had it in spades.

This week, the programme concentrated on a new sunrise money-making operation, previously considered to be the sole preserve of countries like Thailand, which is now thriving all over the British Isles: child prostitution. According to the figures compiled by the programme from police force statistics, the number of children under the age of consent who have been cautioned for soliciting has, in the past two years, doubled. And that doesn't mean last year there were two of them, either - Bradford police have arrested 74 such juveniles in the past 18 months. Moreover, it was estimated by police that 75 per cent of the children (girls and boys) arrested were in local authority care. The comprehensive failure of the care system was detailed in all the grim stories of the children interviewed: the sexually-transmitted diseases, the rapes, the beatings, the drug addictions, ultimately the murders. "It's dangerous enough to walk the streets when you're not a prostitute," said one young lad. "So imagine what we face."

One girl was asked what she would like to happen to her in the future: "I'd like to get a job, get off drugs and get off the streets," she replied, in the world-weary tone of a 40-year-old addict. She was all of 15. It seems some of our children's homes, under- funded, under-staffed and demoralised, have lost the will to help some of their charges. One interviewee spoke of how her pimp used to pick her up for an evening's prostitution direct from the home. Wherever she was going with an ugly man in a large BMW, it must have seemed pretty unlikely to the staff at the home that it was off ice-skating. "I used to come back after a night ripped out of my face and bruises all over my face," said the girl. "And the staff said nothing." The programme focused on a report by Dr Jill Jesson, a Birmingham academic, which estimated that 12 per cent of children in care in the city were presently engaged in prostitution. One of these children's mothers was interviewed. "I didn't expect my daughter to be a prostitute at 14, smoking crack and with a pimp," said the woman. "And yet they took her away from me saying they could take better care of her than I could."

As an indictment of Birmingham's efforts on behalf of its young citizens at risk, it could scarcely have been more damning. Perhaps terrified that it was all like that, the Jesson report had, the programme alleged, been suppressed once it had been completed. Embarrassed local bureaucrats (at least they agreed to be filmed: Department of Health officials wouldn't be) squirmed when challenged by the programme about it, and hid behind the language of obfuscation, full of talk of "minutes", "sub-committees" and "knowledge being in the ownership of Birmingham City Council". Such language was strangely similar in its evasiveness to that used by the children - brim- full as it was of euphemistic vocabulary like "game", "business" and "relief", words which sought to anaesthetise the pain of what they were doing. It was clear, however, at the end of a deeply disturbing programme, that in this unsavoury little world where language ceases to have any meaning, one word more than any other has been abused into total meaninglessness - "care".

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