What is baby farming? EastEnders to explore George Knight's shocking story tonight

George received huge news after his parents arrived in Walford after Christmas (PA Archive)
George received huge news after his parents arrived in Walford after Christmas (PA Archive)

EastEnders will air a special episode tonight, focusing on George Knight's heritage story. The episode will be centred solely on George as he makes some huge life-changing discoveries.

George's parents Eddie and Gloria arrived in Walford after Christmas, where they told him the truth about how they'd adopted him as a child.

The Knights explained that they had essentially bought him through a process known as baby farming, where children were illegally sold to couples by their biological parents.

George subsequently found out that his biological parents may not have been Jamaican as he'd been led to believe, but rather West African migrants who'd had to give him up.

It soon became clear that George still didn't know the full story, and that Eddie and Gloria were both still hiding a secret.

In an interview with Good Morning Britain, Colin Salmon, who plays George Knight, speaks about the plot: "The parents who handed him over did it with all good intent, obviously. They thought they were handing them over to kings and queens."

"It's complex," he adds.

In a special episode, George finally unlocks the truth about his childhood, Eddie's racism and what really happened.

What is baby farming? 

Baby farming is the historical practice of accepting custody of an infant or child in exchange for payment.

This began to take place in late-Victorian Britain and, less commonly, in Australia and the United States. Some baby farmers adopted numerous children and then harmed them or murdered them outright, since they were not paid enough to care for the child for a long period of time.

Margaret Waters, who was executed in 1870, and Amelia Dyer, executed in 1896, were two infamous British baby farmers, who were hanged for their atrocities. Other examples include Amelia Sach and Annie Walters, who murdered the babies they adopted with a poisonous mixture of chlorodyne. Sach and Walters were executed for their crimes in 1903 in the only double-hanging of women to be carried out in modern times.

The last baby farmer to be executed in Britain was Rhoda Willis, who was hanged in Wales in 1907.

From the 1950s to the 1970s, some West African children and babies were fostered via newspapers and childcare journals. Adverts were typically placed by parents.

In 1968, up to 5,000 West African children were privately fostered in Britain each year, according to The Times. Many of these children were born to students, who after the Ghanaian and Nigerian independence became a huge part of the UK’s international student population.

Many experienced issues with identity and racism, while others had largely positive experiences.

Privately fostered West Africans have been speaking out over the last few years, particularly after the release of two films on the subject, The Last Tree – a story of a young African immigrant navigating a ruthless, often racist British society – and Farming – a story about a child whose Nigerian parents give him to a white working-class family in London in the 1980s.

The Last Tree was one of the first films to tackle the problem in 2019.

In 2023, Channel 5 show White Nanny, Black Child was released, highlighting the long-lasting impact baby farming had on West African children.

Yewande Ogunnaike, 60, was farmed out at two months old with her twin sister, and moved between families. “The first place I really remember was Leicester and I just remember darkness,” she said. “It was so bad we had to be removed by social services.

“I remember darkness and being beaten so badly. I don’t remember the sexual abuse, but I know it happened there. I remember a cigarette being put out underneath my chin. I was beaten so hard that I wet myself, and I was forced to lick it up off the lino floor. I remember ‘n*****’, ‘n*****’, ‘n*****’."

When did baby farming stop?

The Children Act was introduced in 1908, under which "no infant could be kept in a home that was so unfit and so overcrowded as to endanger its health, and no infant could be kept by an unfit nurse who threatened, by neglect or abuse, its proper care and maintenance".

The Adoption of Children (Regulation) Act 1939 gradually placed adoption and foster care under the protection and regulation of the state.

However, in the 1960s and 70s, thousands of West Africans were still "farmed".