5.2 Trafficked and Exploited Children and Young People: Guidance
- The issues of child trafficking
- Identifying trafficked and exploited children
- Information Gathering
- Children at risk of, or experiencing, significant harm
- The National Referral Mechanism
- Issues to consider when working with trafficked children
- Particularly vulnerable groups of children
- Useful Links
- Related Policies, Procedures, and Guidance
This document provides guidance to professionals and volunteers from all agencies in safeguarding and promoting the welfare of trafficked and exploited children. Child trafficking is child abuse.
Trafficked children are at increased risk of significant harm because they are largely invisible to the professionals and volunteers who would be in a position to assist them. The adults who traffic them take trouble to ensure that the children do not come to the attention of the authorities, or disappear from contact with statutory services soon after arrival in the UK, or in a new area within the UK.
Human trafficking is defined by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) guidelines (2006) as a process that is a combination of three basic components:
The Palermo Protocol establishes children as a special case for whom there are only two components – movement and exploitation. Any child transported for exploitative reasons is considered to be a trafficking victim – whether or not s/he has been deceived, because it is not considered possible for children to give informed consent.
A child may be trafficked between several countries in the EU or globally, prior to being trafficked into/within the UK. The child may have entered the UK illegally or legally (i.e. with immigration documents), but the intention of exploitation underpins the entire process. Child victims may be indigenous UK nationals, European Union [EU] nationals or from any country outside the EU.
The following principles should be adopted by all agencies in relation to identifying and responding to children (and unborn children) at risk of or having been trafficked:
The issues of child trafficking
Why do people traffic children?
Most children are trafficked for financial gain. This can include payment from or to the child’s parents, and can involve the child in debt-bondage to the traffickers. In most cases, the trafficker also receives payment from those wanting to exploit the child once in the UK. Some trafficking is carried out by organised gangs. In other cases, individual adults or agents traffic children to the UK for their own personal gain. The exploitation of trafficked children may be progressive. Children trafficked for domestic work may also be vulnerable to sexual exploitation or children initially trafficked for sexual exploitation may be re-trafficked.
Children may be used for:
This list above is not exhaustive and all cases should be treated on a case by case basis. Illegal adoption, female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced marriage could be indicators of trafficking in cases where any of the listed exploitation types have also occurred. Such cases would require careful exploration of the individual case circumstances. If a child has been trafficked for these purposes, the primary response should be to safeguard the welfare of the child. In such cases, the child may be treated as a victim of a crime under legislation such as the Forced Marriage Civil Protection Act 2007; Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 or the Adoption Act 2002, rather than as victims of trafficking offences, unless there are clear indications of exploitation under the Convention. Where exploitation is present, statutory child protection and safeguarding responses should be applied, and a referral should be made to the National Referral Mechanism for a decision on the status of the potential victim of trafficking.
How are children recruited and controlled?
Traffickers recruit their victims using a variety of methods. Some children are abducted or kidnapped, although most children are trapped in subversive ways, e.g.
Many children travel on false documents or enter clandestinely without documentation. Even those whose documents are genuine may not have access to them. One way that traffickers control children is to retain their passports and threaten children that should they escape, they will be deported. The creation of a false identity for a child can give a trafficker direct control over every aspect of a child’s life, for example, by claiming to be a parent or guardian.
Even before they travel, children may be abused and exploited to ensure that the trafficker’s control continues after the child is transferred to someone else’s care, e.g.
The traffickers might be part of a well organised criminal network, or they might be individuals involved in only one of the stages of the operation, such as the provision of false documentation, transport, or places where the child’s presence can be concealed.
How are children brought to the UK?
Trafficking within the UK
Identifying trafficked and exploited children
Role of all professionals
Possible indicators that a child may have been trafficked
At port of entry
3. The child:
4. The sponsor could:
Whilst resident in the UK (in addition to those listed above)
5. The child:
Children internally trafficked within the UK
6. Indicators include:
7. The indicators above should not be read as a definitive list and professionals should be aware of any other unusual factors that may suggest a child might have been trafficked. They are intended as a guide, which should be included in a wider assessment of the young person’s circumstances as well as part of a trafficking assessment.
8. It is also important to note that trafficked children might not show obvious signs of distress or abuse and this makes identifying children who may have been trafficked difficult.
9. Some children are unaware that they have been trafficked, while others may actively participate in hiding that they have been trafficked due to grooming or threats from the trafficker.
Obstacles to self-identification
Information gathering should include the child’s presenting behaviours and what s/he discloses together with any known information about the child’s circumstances, and expert advice about trafficked children. The expert advice (including identifying children, ensuring their safety, gaining their trust and assessing them) can be obtained from:
Children at risk of, or experiencing, significant harm
Children’s Social Care Response
Referral and information gathering
The social worker should obtain as much information as possible from the referrer, including:
Action after the initial information gathering
On completion of the initial information gathering, the social worker discusses the referral with their supervising manager to agree and plan the way forward:
Strategy meeting/discussion as part of Section 47 enquiries
Interview as part of Section 47 enquiries
5. The adults in the family should be interviewed separately, covering the same areas. A comparison can then be made between the answers to ensure they match.
6. All documentation should be seen and checked. This includes Home Office documentation, passports, visas, utility bills, tenancy agreements and birth certificates. Particular attention should be given to the documentation presented to the school at point of admission. It is not acceptable to be told that the passport is missing or that the paperwork is missing. It is extremely unlikely that a person does not know where their paperwork / official documentation is kept and this information could be considered as an indicator the child may have been trafficked.
On completion of Section 47 enquiries
The National Referral Mechanism
Overview and role of competent authority
The national referral mechanism comprises a four stage process for establishing formally that a child is a victim of trafficking:
Stage one – safeguarding assessment
In the first instance a frontline professional identifies that the child may be trafficked using the indicators set out above, and undertakes a safeguarding assessment, ensuring that this is in line with the 'information gathering' section of this guidance.
Stage two – referral to a competent authority
Stage three – ‘reasonable grounds’
Stage four – referral to competent authority
Issues to consider when working with trafficked children
The following services are likely to be necessary to address the child’s needs:
They will also need:
Assessing the age of a victim of trafficking can be necessary because a child may have documents which are false or forged, or belong to another child, in order to make them appear younger or older. Children are groomed (coerced) to lie about their age by the adults trafficking and exploiting them. Accordingly, information about a child provided by an accompanying adult/carer may not be accurate.
When the age of the victim is uncertain and there are reasons to believe that they are a child, either because the victim has stated they are under 18 years of age or there is documentation or information from statutory or specialist agencies that have raised concerns that they may be under 18, then s/he should be presumed to be a child and be provided with full protection as a child victim of trafficking.
Where there is concern that a child may have been trafficked and an age dispute arises, the child should be given the benefit of the doubt as to their age until his/her age is verified. This is in accordance with the Council of Europe Convention.
Age assessments should be Merton compliant (a term used to describe a local authority age assessment that has been conducted in accordance with the case law on age assessments and is therefore fair and lawful. The term derives from the Merton judgment of 2003 which gives ‘guidance as to the requirements of a lawful assessment by a local authority of the age of a young asylum seeker claiming to be under the age of 18 years’).
In circumstances where it is determined that a young victim of trafficking is an adult, professionals must follow their local Protection of Vulnerable Adults (POVA) procedure, and also contact the UKHTC.
Supporting child witnesses
Assessing the willingness and capacity of a child victim to support criminal proceedings at the earliest stage is critical to ensure their welfare and that the most appropriate measures are in place to provide the support they may need. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child requires that authorities should give primary consideration to the best interests of the child.
One of the key points to recognise is that the prosecution process itself, especially the trial, can be daunting and stressful for children. There are risks of re-traumatising the child or causing the child unnecessary worry and distress. While the child may not be in any danger as a witness, he/she will still be likely to suffer from stress and worry at the thought of having to give evidence in court. It is unlikely to be possible to eliminate this altogether, but steps should be taken to reduce it to a minimum.
This also applies to the process of gathering information that might support care proceedings. Like victims of domestic abuse, the child is likely to fear reprisal from their traffickers and/or the adults with whom he or she was living in the UK if they co-operate with Children’s social care or the police.
For children trafficked from abroad, an additional level of anxiety may exist because of fear of reprisals against their family in their home country. They may also fear being deported, having entered the UK illegally. Trafficked children may also have been forced to commit criminal offences while they are in a coerced situation.
The Guidance ‘Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings: provides detailed recommended procedures for interviewing child witnesses. It considers planning interviews, decisions about whether the interview should be video recorded or a statement taken, preparing the witness for court and subsequent court appearances, pre-trial therapy and special measures.
Children, who might agree to testify in a criminal case, fear that they will be discredited in court because they were coerced into lying on their visa applications or immigration papers.
Returning trafficked children to their country of origin (safe returns)
In many cases, and with advice from their lawyers, trafficked children apply to the UKBA for asylum or for humanitarian protection. This is often because of the high risk they face of coming to harm if they are forced to return to their countries of origin. All such claims must be carefully considered. Among the factors to consider if the child is deported is the risk of him or her being re-trafficked with the possibility of further exploitation and abuse. When considering the child’s application it will be important to gather information about the child’s family, community and general conditions in the country of origin. These enquiries can be assisted by Children and Families Abroad, UK Human Trafficking Centre, Europol, and Serious Organised Crime Authority.
If the child does not qualify for asylum or humanitarian protection, and adequate reception arrangements are in place in the country of origin, the child will usually have to return. The process of returning the child should be handled sensitively and will require close co-operation between the UKBA and the child’s social worker.
It is important that appropriate steps are taken to minimise the possibility of the child going missing once a decision to return him or her to their country of origin has been made. Equally, the social worker may be best placed to reconcile the child to being returned, and in helping the child access the assistance with reintegration which is available through voluntary return schemes (which are always the preferred way of carrying out any return to the child’s country of origin).
Potential prosecution of traffickers
Whether an alleged trafficker is being prosecuted may be of relevance but the decision to identify a victim (either preliminary or conclusively) is not dependent on a conviction of the perpetrators, or on whether or not the victim cooperates in the criminal proceedings.
Decision makers need to be aware that all deliberations will be subject to rules of disclosure in any subsequent prosecution for trafficking. Where an individual is being treated by the police as a potential witness, regardless of whether they are likely to be found to be victims or not, case owners should ensure lines of communication with the Senior Investigating Officer are kept open. The decision of whether someone is a victim is for the Competent Authority to make, but officers must be alert to the impact that the decision may have on the victim and other stakeholders in the criminal justice process.
Particularly vulnerable groups of children
Trafficked children who are looked after
Related Policies, Procedures, and Guidance
- Neglect Guidance
- Forced Marriage: Guidance
- Honour-Based Violence and Abuse: Guidance
- Migrant and Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children: Guidance
- Female Genital Mutilation: Procedure and Guidance