6.25 Safeguarding Children and Young People who may have been Trafficked

6.25 Safeguarding Children and Young People who may have been Trafficked


  1. Introduction
  2. Definitions
  3. Important Information about Trafficking
  4. Managing Individual Situations
  5. What Trafficked Children Need
  6. Returning Trafficked Children to their Country of Origin
  7. Trafficked children who are Looked After
  8. Trafficked children who are Missing
  9. International and UK Legislation
  10. Support Services and Useful Contacts


  1. Introduction

The organised crime of child trafficking into the UK is a rapidly growing global problem, which is more than a law and order concern; it is a violation of human rights, affecting all communities.

Child protection procedures will always apply where there is suspicion that a child may be being trafficked.  A trafficked child or young person is a victim of a serious crime, who may have suffered from a wide range of physical, emotional, sexual or religious abuse. Fear caused by these abuses may make children (or remaining family in the country of origin), intimidated and unwilling to speak to professionals.

It is essential that professionals working across social care, education, health, immigration and law enforcement develop an awareness of this activity and an ability to identify trafficked children.

This guidance provides information about trafficking, the roles and functions of relevant agencies and the procedures practitioners should follow to ensure the safety and well-being of children who it is suspected have been trafficked.

  1. Definitions

The definition of trafficking contained in the ‘Palermo Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children’ (ratified by the UK in 2006) is as follows:

“Trafficking of persons” shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of person, by means of the threat of 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.

A child is defined according to the Children Acts 1989 and 2004 as anyone who has not yet reached their 18th birthday.

Any child transported for exploitative reasons is considered to be a trafficking victim, whether or not they have been forced or deceived. This is partly because it is not considered possible for children in this situation to give informed consent. Even when a child understands what has happened, they may still appear to submit willingly to what they believe to be the will of their parents or accompanying adults. It is important that these children are protected also.

  1. Important Information about Trafficking

Most children are trafficked for financial gain. This can include payment from or to the child’s parents. In most cases, the trafficker also receives payment from those wanting to exploit the child once in the UK.  Trafficking is carried out by organised gangs and individual adults or agents.

Trafficked children may be used for:

  • Child Sexual Exploitation
  • Domestic servitude
  • Sweatshop, restaurant and other catering work
  • Credit card fraud
  • Begging or pick pocketing or other forms of petty criminal activity
  • Agricultural labour, including tending plants in illegal cannabis farms
  • Benefit fraud
  • Drug mules, drug dealing or decoys for adult drug traffickers
  • Illegal inter-country adoptions

Children may be trafficked from a number of different countries for a variety of different reasons. Factors which can make children vulnerable to trafficking are varied and include such things as poverty, lack of education, discrimination and disadvantage, political conflict and economic transition, inadequate local laws and regulations. It is also true that whilst there is a demand for children within the UK, trafficking will continue to be a problem.

In order to recruit children, a variety of coercive methods are used such as abduction or kidnapping as well as more subversive ways such as the promise of education, respectable employment or a better life.

Many children travel to the UK on false documents. The creation of a false identity for a child can give a trafficker direct control over every aspect of the child’s life. Even before they travel to the UK, children may be subject to various forms of abuse and exploitation to ensure that the trafficker’s control over the child continues after the child is transferred to someone else’s care.

Any port of entry into the UK may be used by traffickers via air, rail and sea and as checks on main entry points are increased, evidence suggests that traffickers are using more local entry points.

There is increasing evidence that children of both UK and other citizenship are being trafficked internally within the UK for very similar reasons to those outlined above. There is evidence of teenage girls born in the UK being targeted for internal trafficking between towns and cities for sexual exploitation (see Safeguarding Children and Young People Abused Through Sexual Exploitation)

Trafficked children are victims of serious crime and this will impact on their health and welfare. In order to coerce and control, they are commonly subject to physical abuse including use of drugs and alcohol, emotional and psychological abuse, sexual abuse and neglect as a result of a lack of care about their welfare and the need for secrecy surrounding their circumstances.

  1. Managing Individual Situations

4.1 Identification of Trafficked Children

All practitioners who come into contact with children and young people in their everyday work need to be able to recognise children who have been trafficked, and be competent to act to support and protect these children from harm.

The social worker must work in close co-operation with staff in the UK Visas Immigration and the UK Trafficking Centre (UKHTC) who may be familiar with patterns of trafficking into the UK. UKBA staff should be able to advise on whether information about the individual child suggests that they fit the profile of a potentially trafficked child.

The nationality or immigration status of the child does not affect any agency’s statutory responsibilities to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. Nationality and immigration issues should be discussed with the UKBA only when the child’s need for protection from harm has been addressed and should not hold up action to protect the child.

4.2 Possible indicators:

Identification of trafficked children may be difficult, as they might not show obvious signs of distress or abuse. Some children are unaware that they have been trafficked; while others may actively participate in hiding that they have been trafficked.

The following indicators are not a definitive list and are intended as a guide to be included in a wider assessment of the child’s circumstances.

At port of entry, the child;

  • Has entered the country illegally, has no passport or means of identification or has false documentation
  • Is unable to confirm the name and address of the person meeting them on arrival
  • Has had their journey or visa arranged by someone other than themselves or their family
  • Is accompanied by an adult who insists on remaining with the child at all times
  • Is withdrawn and refuses to talk or appears afraid to talk to a person in authority
  • Has a prepared story similar to those that other children have given
  • Is unable or is reluctant to give details of accommodation or other personal details

Whilst resident in the UK, the child;

  • Does not appear to have money but does have a mobile phone
  • Receives unexplained/unidentified phone calls whilst in placement / temporary accommodation
  • Has a history of missing links and unexplained moves
  • Is required to earn a minimum amount of money every day, works in various locations, has limited amount of movement, is known to beg for money
  • Is being cared for by adult/s who are not their parents and the quality of the relationship between the child and their adult carers is not good
  • Is one among a number of unrelated children found at one address
  • Has not been registered with or attended a GP practice; has not been enrolled in school

For children internally trafficked in the UK, indicators include:

  • Physical symptoms indicating physical or sexual assault
  • Behaviour indicating sexual exploitation
  • Phone calls or letters being received by the child from adults outside the usual range of contacts
  • The child persistently going missing; missing for long periods; returning looking well cared for despite having no known base
  • The child possessing large amounts of money; acquiring expensive clothes/mobile phones without plausible explanation
  • Low self-image, low self-esteem, self-harming behaviour, truancy and disengagement with education

Children trafficked for the purpose of domestic labour may be less obvious, and their use to the family may be more likely to be picked up during a Private Fostering assessment, or because someone notices that they are living at a house, but not in school etc. Children who enter the country apparently as part of re-unification arrangements can be particularly vulnerable to domestic exploitation.

If it is identified that a child may be being trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation the procedures for Safeguarding Children and Young People Abused Through Sexual Exploitation should also be followed.

4.3 Referrals

Any agency or individual practitioner or volunteer who has a concern regarding the possible trafficking of a child should immediately make a referral under the Contacts and Referrals Procedure. Practitioners should not do anything which would heighten the risk of harm or abduction to the child.

Prompt decisions are needed when the concerns relate to a child who may be trafficked in order to act before the child goes missing.

Decision-making following the receipt of a referral will normally follow discussions with the Police, the person making the referral and may involve other professionals and services – see those identified in Section 10, Support Services.

4.4 Child trafficking multi agency assessment and national referral form

An assessment of need must be undertaken, which must seek to establish:

  • Their correct name
  • Relevant details about the child’s background before they came to the UK;
  • If there are any relatives and where
  • An understanding of the reasons that the child came to the UK; and
  • An analysis of the child’s vulnerability to being under the influence of traffickers.

While undertaking the assessment, please remember these children may be traumatised, in fear of adults or people in authority.

  • Be sensitive and build trust.
  • Avoid question and answer process.
  • Be aware that the child may be fearful of disclosing information due to threats of direct harm to the child or their family.
  • Ensure child’s mobile phone is turned off during the interview as the adult may use it as a method of control.
  • Be mindful of interviewing child/young person in presence of an individual who may be involved in trafficking.
  • Only use authorised/ registered interpreters.

The process of assessment and related risk-assessments will need to be sensitively managed. Provision may need to be made for the child to be in a safe place before any assessment takes place and for the possibility that they may not be able to disclose full information about their circumstances immediately. The location of the child should not be divulged to any enquirer until their identity and relationship with the child has been established, if necessary with the help of police and immigration services.

It may that a child in this group has been trafficked into the country, with risk of exposure to unsafe work and sexual exploitation and so could go missing shortly after being accommodated if he/she is located or has to meet others as part of the trafficking arrangement, and the child/young person believes that a failure to meet a person or group in this country places their family at risk at home. The Children and Families Who Go Missing procedure should be followed immediately that a young trafficked person is reported missing.

A risk-assessment as to the likelihood of a UASC going missing should be undertaken in the same way as for any other child believed to be at risk of going missing from their care placement.

Under the rules of the Convention on Action Against Trafficking, first responders who suspect a person is a victim of trafficking should refer their case to a trained ‘competent authority’. They will then make the decision on whether or not the person has been trafficked.

For the UK the competent authority is the UK Visas Immigration for potential victims within the immigration and asylum system, and the UK Human Trafficking Centre for those who are not within the immigration system.

First responders who suspect a person is a victim of trafficking should fill out the multi assessment and referral form (See Home Office website) using the related guidance and submit it to the appropriate competent authority for review.

This form should only be completed where the trafficking of a child is suspected or claimed. It is for use by local authority social workers or exceptionally other lead professionals working within the LSCB or their equivalent in Scotland or Northern Ireland, to record their contact with potential child victims of trafficking.

It is the means for a first responder to provide as much information as possible to the competent authority, to enable a decision to be reached on whether the child has reasonable grounds for being treated as a victim of trafficking. The competent authority for the whole of the United Kingdom is the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre (UKHTC).

The tick box matrix of indicators at section C has been developed from those within ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children Who May Have Been Trafficked‘ Section D should be completed providing a summary of your reasons for ticking the relevant boxes.

Most importantly, where concerns are raised that a child may be a victim of trafficking the first and foremost priority must be to ensure that they are protected from further harm by initiating local child protection or safeguarding procedures.

When a Competent Authority finds ‘reasonable grounds’ to believe someone is a victim of trafficking they will be granted a 45 day extendable recovery and reflection period during which time the victim can access accommodation and support and will not be removed from the country. Before the end of the reflection period victims may be granted a renewable residence permit.

It may that a child in this group has been trafficked into the country, with risk of exposure to unsafe work and sexual exploitation and so could go missing shortly after being accommodated if he/she is located or has to meet others as part of the trafficking arrangement, and the child/young person believes that a failure to meet a person or group in this country places their family at risk at home

Even if there are no apparent concerns, child welfare agencies should continue to monitor the situation until the child is appropriately settled.

4.5 Strategy Discussion and Section 47 Enquiries

The Strategy Discussion should decide whether to conduct a joint interview with the child and, if necessary, with the family or carers.  Under no circumstances should the child and their family members or carers be interviewed together.

Professional interpreters, who have been approved and DBS checked, should be used where English is not the child’s preferred language. Under no circumstances should the interpreter be the sponsor or another adult purporting to be the parent, guardian or relative.

4.6 Multi-agency Meeting

On completion of a Section 47 Enquiry a multi-agency meeting should be held convened by the social worker, and involving the social worker’s supervising manager, the referring agency if appropriate, the Police and other relevant professionals to decide on future action. Further action should not be taken until this meeting has been held and multi-agency agreement obtained to the proposed plan, including the need for a Child Protection Conference and possible Child Protection Plan.

Where it is found that the child is not a member of the family with whom he or she is living and is not related to any other person in this country, consideration should be given to whether the child needs to be moved from the household and/or legal advice sought on making a separate application for immigration status.

Any law enforcement action regarding fraud, trafficking, deception and illegal entry to this country is the remit of the Police and the local authority should assist in any way possible.

  1. What Trafficked Children Need

Trafficked children need:

  • Professionals to be informed and competent in matters relating to trafficking and exploitation
  • Someone to spend sufficient time with them to build up a level of trust
  • Separate interviews – at no stage should adults purporting to be the child’s parent, sponsor or carer be present at interviews or at meetings with the child to discuss future action
  • Safe placements if children are victims of organised trafficking operations and for their whereabouts to be kept confidential
  • Legal advice about their rights and immigration status
  • Discretion and caution to be used in tracing their families
  • Risk assessments to be made of the danger if he or she is repatriated and
  • Where appropriate, accommodation under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 or an application of an Interim Care Order
  1. Returning Trafficked Children to their Country of Origin

In many cases, trafficked children apply to the UK Visas Immigration for asylum or for humanitarian protection. For some, returning to their country of origin presents a high risk of being re-trafficked, further exploitation and abuse.

If a 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. It is important that this is handled sensitively and with assistance with reintegration, which is available through voluntary return schemes.

  1. Trafficked children who are Looked After

Trafficked children identified as Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) may be accommodated by the local authority under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989.

The assessment of their needs to inform their Care Plan should include a risk assessment of how the local authority intends to protect them from any trafficker being able to re-involve the child in exploitative activities. This plan should include contingency plans to be followed if the child goes missing.

Whilst the child is Looked After, residential and foster carers should be vigilant about, for example, waiting cars outside the premises, telephone enquiries etc.

The local authority should continue to share with the Police any information which emerges during the placement of a child who may have been trafficked, concerning potential crimes against the child, risk to other children or relevant immigration matters.

  1. Trafficked children who are Missing

Significant numbers of children who are categorised as UASC have also been trafficked. Some of these children go missing before they are properly identified as victims of trafficking. Such cases should be urgently reported to the Police. Local authorities should consider seriously the risk that a trafficked child is likely to go missing.

  1. International and UK Legislation

International agreements and legal instruments relevant to trafficked and exploited children include

  • Council Of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking Human Beings (2005)
  • The Yokohama Global Commitment on the Commercial Exploitation of Children (Yokohama 2001)
  • UN Convention on Rights of the Child (UN 1989) and its protocols on Sale of Children, child sexual exploitation and Child Pornography (2000) and Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (2000)
  • Declaration and Agenda for Action on Commercial Exploitation of Children (Stockholm, 1996)

In 2000 trafficking became enshrined in international law for the first time through the Palermo Protocol.

UK legislation and guidance relevant to trafficked and exploited children include

  • Children Act 1989 – Sections 47, 67 (Private Fostering)
  • Children Act 2004
  • The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 – Sections 54 & 55 (Section 55 does not apply to unaccompanied minors)
  • Sexual Offences Act 2003 – covers trafficking into, out of, or within the UK for any form of sexual offence. It also introduced new offences of abuse of children through prostitution and pornography*
  • The Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants etc) Act 2004 – includes the offence of ‘trafficking for exploitation’ which covers trafficking for forced labour and the removal of organs
  • UK Borders Act 2007 – requires the Secretary of State to publish a Code of Practice, ‘Keeping Children Safe from Harm’ which BIA officials are required to follow when dealing with children in the UK
  • The UK Action Plan on Tackling Human Trafficking (2007)
  • Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009

*The Sexual Offences Act 2003 introduced new wide-ranging offences covering trafficking into, out of or within the UK for any form of sexual offence, which carries a 14 year maximum penalty. It introduced a range of new offences covering the commercial sexual exploitation of a child, protecting children up to 18. These include buying the sexual services of a child (for which the penalty ranges from 7 years to life depending on the age of the child); and causing or inciting, arranging or facilitating and controlling the commercial sexual exploitation of a child in prostitution or pornography, for which the maximum penalty is 14 years imprisonment.

  1. Support Services and Useful Contacts

UK Human Trafficking Centre (UKHTC) (0114 252 3891)

CEOP – Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (020 7238 2320)

NSPCC Child Trafficking Advice and Information Line (0800 107 7057) An advice and information service for professionals available since October 2007, a case consultancy service is also available by appointment.

Refugee Council Children’s Panel Provides support to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.

ECPAT UK (020 7233 9887) UK children’s rights organisation campaigning to protect children from commercial sexual exploitation

UNICEF (020 7405 5592)

Afruca (Africans Unite Against Child Abuse) (020 7704 2261) –  Promotes the welfare of African children in the UK and is concerned about cruelty against African children.

CROP (0113 240 3040) A voluntary organisation working to end the sexual exploitation of children and young people by pimps and traffickers

Foreign and Commonwealth Office (0207 008 1500)

The Trafficking Toolkit

The Missing People Helpline

Tackling Trafficking Toolkit

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