Every step of the way away from Victoria Park takes us into a journey of discovery of the community of Highfields where we reach the Globe Sculpture of Lou Boyce (theme: Stolen Legacy: the Rebirth of a Nation) placed next to Medway Community Primary School in St. Stephens Road.
We notice how noticed we are becoming as we make our journey: people stare at us as we straggle along the streets in silence, looking at our phones or checking the paper maps that one or two of us have. One shop keeper comes out to ask what we’re doing, and we show him the orange badge, point to the QR code and he takes this as a sign that we are a group interested in nature.
We get the impression that there aren’t many times when a group like us stroll down these streets, looking suspiciously like tourists. Whilst these streets may offer you security and a place to hang your hat and settle down, they wouldn’t necessarily be your first choice as a tourist destination.
The Highfields Remembered website hosted by DMU University provides greater knowledge of the area than we learn from our journey of discovery into the area, and reminds us that since the early 20th century Highfields has often become the home of new communities: Jewish, Polish, Latvian, Caribbean, and East African:
“In 200 years, Highfields has grown from a sparsely-populated rural area to the thriving multicultural community it is today. All the communities which have settled, either staying or moving on, have made a contribution to the area’s development, leaving a legacy of thriving mosques, temples, churches, shops and other secular buildings.”
We arrive at the location of the Globe Sculpture at Medway Community Primary School where the school’s concerns about slavery are evident through its website. Again, this is not a matter of dry, distant historical interest but is a live issue which families face in the here and now:
Modern slavery is the severe exploitation of other people for personal or commercial gain. Modern slavery is all around us, but often just out of sight. People can become entrapped making our clothes, serving our food, picking our crops, working in factories, or working in houses as cooks, cleaners or nannies.
They are also explicit about the differences between child work, child labour and child slavery:
Child work: Some types of work make useful, positive contributions to a child’s development, helping them learn useful skills. Often, work is also a vital source of income for their families.
Child labour: Child labour is not slavery, but nevertheless hinders children’s education and development. Child labour tends to be undertaken when the child is in the care of their parents. Hazardous work” is the worst form of child labour. It irreversibly damages children’s health and development through, for example, exposure to dangerous machinery or toxic substances, and may even endanger their lives.
Child slavery: Child slavery is the enforced exploitation of a child for someone else’s gain, meaning the child will have no way to leave the situation or person exploiting them.
Child trafficking: Trafficking involves transporting, recruiting or harbouring people for the purpose of exploitation, using violence, threats or coercion. When children are trafficked, no violence, deception or coercion needs to be involved, trafficking is merely the act of transporting or harbouring them for exploitative work.
The school also recognises that child marriage can also obscure what are in reality cases of slavery or slavery-like practices, being clear that child marriage can be referred to as slavery, if one or more of the following elements are present:
* If the child has not genuinely given their free and informed consent to enter the marriage
* If the child is subjected to control and a sense of “ownership” in the marriage itself, particularly through abuse and threats and is exploited by being forced to undertake domestic chores within the marital home or labour outside it, and/or engage in non-consensual sexual relations
* If the child cannot realistically leave or end the marriage, leading potentially to a lifetime of slavery.
But their focus is not just on the impact of slavery on children but also on the impact on adults and families and the causes of slavery:
Forced labour is any work or service which people are forced to do against their will, under threat of punishment. Almost all slavery practices contain some element of forced labour….
… Forced labour happens in the context of poverty, lack of sustainable jobs and education, as well as a weak rule of law, corruption and an economy dependent on cheap labour.
We bade farewell to Medway Community Primary School, thankful that it offers a sanctuary for children and their families against the tyrannies of slavery and enslavement. Next stop: Highfields Community Centre and its relationship with the fashion workers of Leicester.
Or if neither of these is possible (and heaven knows we’re all in tough financial times right now), then anything you can do to share and shout about the campaign would be equally welcomed and appreciated.