I have observed in this column before that I use my annual holiday as an opportunity to catch up with my failure in youth to consume the masterworks of Charles Dickens and that I seem to find every volume ringing bells that chime today.
This year’s tome, Oliver Twist, has been no different. At its heart is a tale of child entrapment and slavery, and along with it goes the shaming and depressing thought that this scourge remains alive and well in our society today.
I was not surprised that the book lacked the swing along good cheer of the Bart’s ‘Food, Glorious Food’, ‘Got a Pick a Pocket or Two’ and ‘Oom-Pah-Pah’ from the stage version. It did come as an eye brow raiser that Nancy had been enslaved by Fagin as a young girl and, even when offered release from her entrapment later in the tale, could no longer envisage life outside the world she had been sucked into. Some contrast to Nancy leading the frolics of Bart’s ‘Its a Fine Life’!
Ron Moody was a marvellous Fagin in the film, but his Fagin was not the evil, scheming, manipulative gangmaster of the book. Through the character of Fagin, Dickens wrote a masterclass in the art of grooming and enslaving the vulnerable.
According to the charity Anti-Slavery International, there are an estimated 13,000 people in slavery in Britain today. In 2015, a third of referrals about suspected slavery to the authorities were of children. So, an estimate of children in slavery in Britain would exceed 4,000. World-wide the charity estimates the figure at 5.5 million. All children being trafficked, trapped in debt bondage, forced into armed conflict, prostitution, pornography and other forms of forced labour or illicit activities.
In the information age of the 21st century we should be able to tackle this and put the Fagins of today out of business. Everyone should be aware of the issues and www.antislavery.org is a good place to start.