Child Trafficking in the UK

I remember hearing Lisa Bevere say, during an anti-trafficking campaign in the US, that what people used to travel for, they now are comfortable with doing at home. She was talking about people travelling for sex: sex tourism. It is from this that stems our belief that trafficking only happens in developing countries…or even just, in countries other than our own. This is so, so untrue. Human trafficking happens everywhere. Men, women and children are trafficked for labour, for sex in their own countries and in all other countries.

We often think of the horrors of human trafficking, especially child trafficking, happening somewhere far away from us. The harsh reality is that child trafficking is rife in the UK, and unless we become aware of this fact and join the fight against it, this monster will continue to grow in size and in reach.

Over the weekend marking the 224th anniversary of the inaugural meeting of the anti-slavery movement in London, it is unacceptable that the UK, a self-proclaimed ‘world leader in fighting human trafficking’, is home to so much trafficking activity, of both children and adults.

It is difficult to assess the situation in terms of statistics and numbers. Chief Constable Maxwell, Programme Director of the UKHTC who works to find accurate information about the scale of the problem, says “at the minute I do not think we have got a real handle on what the figures are”. In terms of sex trafficking, which is unfortunately a trade which claims many of the UK’s trafficked children, the Poppy Project says that “there is no agreed estimate of the scale of sex trafficking into the UK”. Trafficking is also a predominantly hidden crime; victims are afraid to make themselves known to the authorities, and some are not aware of the fact that crimes are being perpetrated against them. If these things are true for adults, how much more so they are for children who are weaker and more vulnerable.

However, the report on human trafficking in the UK from the Home Affairs Committee in the House of Commons suggests certain minimums in particular relation to child trafficking in the UK:

In 2006 ECPAT UK’s research covering three regions of the UK found 80 reported cases of known or suspected child trafficking. 28% of these children were under 16 years old. CEOP’s scoping study for the Government —which was based on information held by the statutory services and NGOs—identified 330 possible victims who had been in contact with those services over an 18 month period. CEOP considered that in just over 30% of these cases there was a high probability that the child had been trafficked. Building on this, CEOP’s data for the 2008 Strategic Threat Assessment also showed 330 possible child victims, but this time over a 12 month period and, because the quality of the data was better, it was believed there was a strong probability of trafficking in 53% of the cases.

From past research and interviews with local authorities, ECPAT UK believes a very conservative estimate would be “at any given time a minimum of 600 children, known or suspected of being trafficked, will be in the asylum system or will have been in the asylum system before going missing from local authority care”. ECPAT UK points out that this is 10% of the Home Office’s figure of 6,000 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in the system.

Again, it is very unlikely that these figures represent anything more than a minority of cases of trafficked children. They do not, for example, take into account children accompanied by an adult when entering the UK who are then subject to abuse by that adult or someone else to whom they are handed. Europol told us that it had seen a number of cases where gangs had trafficked large numbers of people into the EU, including one case where more than 1,000 children had been brought into the EU for labour exploitation or criminal activities. It is reasonable to believe that a significant proportion of those brought into the EU would, at some time or another, enter the UK.

From The trade in human beings: human trafficking in the UK. Sixth report of session 2008-09. Vol. 1: report, together with formal minutes. House of Commons. Home Affairs Committee London: The Stationery Office (TSO), 2009

“It is simply intolerable that in 2011 human trafficking still plagues this country.” Damian Green, Immigration Minister.

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