Modern Slavery and Trafficking

Child trafficking and modern slavery are complex global crimes requiring international and local action to combat them. They are also types of child abuse and if known or suspected require a child protection response. If professionals suspect that a child may be a victim of modern slavery or trafficking they must follow their safeguarding procedures and contact the Integrated Front Door (0151 6062008)

Relevant WSCP Multi-agency safeguarding procedures:

Safeguarding Children and Young People who may have been Trafficked

Modern Slavery

What is Modern Slavery?

Modern Slavery includes the trafficking of people, forced labour, servitude and slavery.

Children (those aged under 18) are considered victims of trafficking whether or not they have been coerced, deveived or paid to secure their compliance. They need only have been recruited, received or harboured for the purpose of exploitation. Modern slavery is an international crime affecting an estimated 45.8 million people around the world.

Types of Modern Slavery

The term Modern Slavery captures a whole range of types of exploitation, many of which occur together. These include but are not limited to:

  • Sexual exploitation – This includes but is not limited to sexual exploitation and sexual abuse, forced prostitution and the abuse of children for the production of child abuse images/videos. 35% of all reported trafficking victims in the UK are victims of sexual exploitation.
  • Domestic servitude – This involves a victim being forced to work in predominantly private households, usually performing domestic chores and childcare duties. Their freedom may be restricted and they may work long hours often for little or no pay, often sleeping where they work. 24% of reported victims of domestic servitude referred to the National Referral mechanism were minors at the time of exploitation.
  • Forced labour – Victims may be forced to work long hours for little or no pay in poor conditions under verbal or physical threats of violence to them or their families. It can happen in various industries, including construction, manufacturing, laying driveways, hospitality, food packaging, agriculture, maritime and beauty (nail bars). Often victims are housed together in one dwelling. 47% of reported victims exploited in the UK are forced into labour. 18% of all reported forced labour victims in the UK are children – an increase of 62.5% since 2015. 81% of all reported victims of forced labour taking place in the UK are male.
  • Criminal exploitation – This can be understood as the exploitation of a person to commit a crime, such as pick-pocketing, shop-lifting, cannabis cultivation, drug trafficking and other similar activities that are subject to penalties and imply financial gain for the trafficker. In the UK in 2016, 34 potential modern slavery victims were involved in fraud or financial crime whereby perpetrators force victims to claim benefits on arrival but the money is withheld, or the victim is forced to take out loans or credit cards6. Cannabis cultivation is the highest category of criminal exploitation with 33% of those being a minor at the time of referral, the majority being Vietnamese.

Children as Victims

The majority of children reported as victims of Modern Slavery are in the 16-17 year old age category, yet they can be of any age, including very young. Many children travel without documents or are given false or forged identity documents, making it difficult to know their exact age. However, where the age of a person is uncertain and there are reasons to believe that they are a child they must be presumed a child until their age has been assessed formally.

Indicators of Modern Slavery

Signs of various types of slavery and exploitation are often hidden, making it hard to recognise potential victims. Victims can be any age, gender or ethnicity or nationality. Whilst by no means exhaustive, this is a list of some common signs:

Legal documents

Is the person in possession of their legal documents (passport, identification and bank account details) or are these being held by someone else? Victims will often be forced to use false or forged identity documents.

Does the person have old or serious untreated injuries? Have they delayed seeing a healthcare professional, and are they vague, reluctant or inconsistent in explaining how the injury occurred?


Does the person look malnourished, unkempt, or appear withdrawn? Are they suffering physical injuries? Do they have few personal possessions and often wear the same clothes? What clothes they do wear may not be suitable for their work.


Is the person withdrawn or appear frightened, unable to answer questions directed at them or speak for themselves and/or an accompanying third party speaks for them? If they do speak, are they inconsistent in the information they provide, including basic facts such as the address where they live? Do they appear under the control/influence of others, rarely interact or appear unfamiliar with their neighbourhood or where they work? Many victims will not be able to speak English

Fear of authorities

Is the person afraid of the authorities? Are they scared of removal or what might happen to their families?

Debt bondage

Does the victim perceive themselves to be in debt to someone else or in a situation of dependence?


Victims may often encounter authorities whilst being trafficked from one area to another or if found in a situation that potentially criminalises them, such as a police raid or an immigration raid.

Signs specific to child victims

 Absent parent or legal guardian

Is the child being cared for by an adult that is not their parent or legal guardian and is the quality of the relationship between the child and their adult carer poor and a reason for concern? Some children may not be attending school or registered with a GP.

Multiple children

Are there a number of unrelated children found at one address? Does the child move location frequently?

Identity documents

Missing, altered or false documentation is common.

Missing children

Children who come into contact with authorities often disappear and are re-trafficked.


Children may not always demonstrate outward signs of distress and may have a ‘bond’ with those exploiting them and have been groomed to not disclose their abuse – however, they are likely to be very scared and traumatised.

Responding to Victims

Modern Slavery is complex, varied and hard to detect. However, there is a way to help bring these cruel acts to an end. Just by being aware of the signs to spot and by remaining vigilant, anyone can help to report suspicions about potential victims; the premises where victims might be held and businesses and workplaces in which victims might be forced to work.

Professionals (including the police, social workers, immigration and relevant support organisations) are working together to identify and safeguard potential victims in line with the UK’s legal obligations13 and should be familiar with the National Referral Mechanism, the official system of identification and assistance for potential victims of trafficking, and the rights of victims

In the case of children, child trafficking and exploitation is child abuse and therefore should be treated as a child protection matter, with police and local authority children’s services notified immediately and existing child protection procedures followed. Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 places a general duty on every local authority to safeguard and promote the welfare of children within their area who are in need. Section 11 of the Children Act 2004 places duties on a range of organisations and individuals to ensure their functions, and any services that they contract out to others, are discharged having regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. In addition, a Local Authority has a duty, under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989, to make enquiries when ‘they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child who lives, or is found, in their area is suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm’.

What is Trafficking?

Child Trafficking is a crime and a form of child abuse which can have a devastating and lasting impact on its victims.

Article 3 of the Palermo Protocol To Prevent, Suppress And Punish Trafficking In Persons, Especially Women And Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime to the UN Convention (2000) (ratified by the UK on 6 February 2006) defines trafficking as:

a. “Trafficking of persons” shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs;
b. The consent of a victim of trafficking in persons to the intended exploitation set forth in sub-paragraph (a) of this article shall be irrelevant where any of the means set forth in subparagraph (a) have been used;
c. The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a child for the purpose of exploitation shall be considered “trafficking in persons” even if this does not involve any of the means set forth in subparagraph (a) of this article;
d. “Child” shall mean any person under eighteen years of age.”

Why do People Traffic Children?

Children are trafficked for many reasons including sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, labour, benefit fraud and involvement in criminal activity such as pick-pocketing, theft and working in cannabis farms. There are a number of cases of minors being exploited in the sex industry. Although there is no evidence of other forms of exploitation such as organ donation or ‘harvesting’, all agencies should remain vigilant.

Children can be trafficked between countries, into the UK and within the UK. Children who have been trafficked may be sexually abused as part of being controlled or because they are vulnerable. Trafficked children will also suffer neglect. They may not receive routine and emergency medical treatment and may also be subject to physical, sensory and food deprivation.

National Referral Mechanism

The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is a framework for identifying victims of human trafficking or modern slavery and ensuring they receive the appropriate support.

The NRM is also the mechanism through which the Modern Slavery Human Trafficking Unit (MSHTU) collect data about victims. This information contributes to building a clearer picture about the scope of human trafficking and modern slavery in the UK.

The NRM was introduced in 2009 to meet the UK’s obligations under the Council of European Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. At the core of every country’s NRM is the process of locating and identifying “potential victims of trafficking”.

From 31 July 2015 the NRM was extended to all victims of modern slavery in England and Wales following the implementation of the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

From 31 July 2015, in all UK referrals, the Competent Authority (trained decision makers) must consider whether the person is a victim of human trafficking. In England and Wales, if someone is found not to be a victim of trafficking, the Competent Authority must go on to consider whether they are the victim of another form of modern slavery, which includes slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour.

The NRM grants a minimum 45-day reflection and recovery period for victims of human trafficking or modern slavery. Trained decision makers decide whether individuals referred to them should be considered to be victims of trafficking according to the definition in the Council of Europe Convention. In England and Wales, further consideration is made to those who do not meet the definition of trafficking. Their cases are then considered against the definitions of slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour.

The NRM process

Referral to a UK competent authority (first responders)

To be referred to the NRM, potential victims of trafficking or modern slavery must first be referred to one of the UK’s two competent authorities (CAs).  This initial referral will generally be handled by an authorised agency such as a police force, the NCA, the UK Border Force, Home Office Immigration and Visas, Social Services or certain NGO’s.  The referring authority is known as the ‘first responder’.

Referring children into the NRM encourages the sharing of information between agencies and can help to ensure an appropriate safeguarding response.

It also helps the UK to collect evidence and build an understanding of the patterns of child trafficking. This helps to shape policy and can aid police investigations into trafficking.

The NCA is a first responder agency, as are the following:

The first responder will complete a referral form to pass the case to the CA. Referral to a CA is voluntary and can happen only if the potential victim gives their permission by signing the referral form. In the case of children their consent is not required. To download an adult or child referral form go to the website.

All completed NRM forms are sent to the MSHTU in the first instance. The MSHTU will then determine which CA will deal with the case and will forward the papers if needed.

Completed forms should be sent to the MSHTU Competent Authority via e-mail at [email protected]  or by fax to 0870 496 5534.

Competent Authorities (CA)

In the UK the two Competent Authorities are:

  • The NCA’s Modern Slavery Human Trafficking Unit (MSHTU)
  • The Home Office Visas and Immigration (UKVI)

All referrals to the NRM from first responders must be sent to MSHTU initially. MSHTU also manages the data on NRM referrals. MSHTU makes reasonable and conclusive grounds decisions on all cases involving:

  • a UK national
  • a European Economic Area (EEA) national (except where there is a live immigration issue)

When MSHTU receives a referral relating to an EEA or non-EEA national who is subject to immigration control, they will refer the case to the Home Office Competent Authority, who will make the reasonable and conclusive grounds decisions.

If a case involves a non-EEA national with no active immigration issues, MSHTU also refers the case to the Home Office Competent Authority who will make the reasonable and conclusive grounds decision.

The NRM team has a target date of 5 working days from receipt of referral in which to decide whether there are reasonable grounds to believe the individual is a potential victim of human trafficking or modern slavery. This may involve seeking additional information from the first responder or from specialist NGOs or social services.

If the decision is affirmative then the potential victim will be:

  • allocated a place within Government funded safe house accommodation, if required
  • granted a reflection and recovery period of 45 calendar days. This allows the victim to begin to recover from their ordeal and to reflect on what they want to do next, for example, co-operate with police as required, return home etc.

The potential victim and the first responder are both notified of the decision by letter.

During the 45 day reflection and recovery period the Competent Authority gathers further information relating to the referral from the first responder and other agencies.

Detailed information and documents to support making a referral can be found here:

The NSPCC provides a summary of the NRM process:

 Trafficking and Modern Slavery Resources

Modern Slavery – Briefing

Modern Slavery FAQ

HM Government Modern Slavery Strategy


Safeguarding Children who may have been Trafficked – DFE Guidance

UN Global report on Trafficking 2018

The purpose of the Government_Resource_sheet_child_trafficking resource sheet is to signpost local authorities and practitioners to resources which can support them in their response to child trafficking in their area. It includes good practice guidance produced by Government, as well as guides and toolkits produced by non-governmental organisations, universities and the office of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner.

NSPCC Advice leaflets:







WSCB Posters –

WSCB Modern Slavery Awareness Poster

WSCB Trafficking Awareness Poster

UK Government Posters –

Modern Slavery Poster 1

Modern Slavery Poster 2


The WSCB offers an e-learning course: Trafficking, Exploitation and Modern Slavery. The course examines different types of exploitation, how individuals become victim to abuse and what actions professionals should take to recognise victims and help them.

Upon completing this course learners will be able to:

  • Define and explain the meanings of adult and child trafficking, exploitation and modern slavery
  • Be aware of and make sure to respect the rights of victims of trafficking
  • Act in line with your own responsibilities as a professional and be aware of the responsibilities of other authorities in the UK

The course is offered free of charge to all professionals who have registered as learners with the WSCB. Details about how to register can be found here:


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