12th August

Chimney sweep - Wikipedia

In 1789 William Blake wrote about child chimney sweeps: “A little black thing among the snow; crying weep, weep, in notes of woe. Where are thy father & mother say? They are both gone up to the church to pray.” A few decades later in Oliver Twist, Dickens was still complaining about child labour as chimney sweeps. In 1834 an Act of Parliament was passed forbidding it to boys under 10 and boys under 14 unless they were apprentices. You wonder who actually checked. Previously boys as young as 6 had been used, and this had seemed perfectly acceptable to so many rich householders. When we see young people, mothers and babies, arriving at our shores, and our determination to keep them off, you wonder whether in years to come people will look back at us and say, “What was their rationale for such behaviour when they appeared quite civilised in so many ways.” The arrival of the Navy to defend ourselves from lads who have walked from Sudan across the Sahara to get here, seems extreme. Does it take threats to their lives for us to sort out the traffickers who are making so much money out of exploiting them? We have two governments of able civil servants who must surely be able to find another, human way; unless of course as a country, both countries, we decide that this is what we want. In that case, morally, we have more to worry about than Covid 19.

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