New child trafficking figures are ‘tip of the iceberg’
24 August 2012
The Government has released its ‘Baseline Assessment on the Nature and Scale of Human Trafficking in 2011’ – which it claims is the first time an attempt has been made to describe the full extent of human trafficking in the UK.
ECPAT UK welcomes the UK Human Trafficking Centre’s (UKHTC) publication, which adds to our collective knowledge on human trafficking, but has serious concerns about the quality of the data used to support the report.
The report found that there were 2,077 potential victims of human trafficking identified in the UK in 2011, and about 24% of these were children. It acknowledges that the number of victims may be higher than this because many are not identified as victims of trafficking by those who encounter them and because many are unable or unwilling to disclose their experiences.
However, the UKHTC has not included the total number of adults and children initially referred into its National Referral Mechanism system, only those who have received ‘Positive Reasonable Grounds’ or ‘Positive Conclusive Grounds’ decisions, which we believe omits a large number of people, including children, who are likely to have been trafficked.
The National Referral Mechanism is a process set up by the Government to identify and support victims of trafficking in the UK. It was born out of the Government's obligation to identify victims under the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Human Trafficking. Under the NRM, authorised agencies, known as ‘first responders’ refer potential victims to either the UKHTC or the UK Border Agency.
Since the NRM’s inception, it has come under criticism for how it makes decisions on who is a victim of trafficking, particularly in relation to children. For example, the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group, of which ECPAT UK is a member, stated in its ‘Wrong Kind of Victim' report that: “In setting up the NRM, the British authorities decided to bypass the existing system and not task local authority children’s services with the identification of trafficked children, despite their expertise in child protection and their statutory duty to safeguard children.
“Instead they are required to refer the cases to NRM decision-makers, who are viewed by a number of professionals as having insufficient expertise in relation to children.”
ECPAT UK also knows that many of the first responders, including frontline police officers and social workers, have no or little knowledge of child trafficking or of the NRM process so these figures are just the tip of the iceberg when facing the reality of child trafficking in the UK.
In addition, ECPAT UK is aware of inconsistencies in the way the UK Border Agency decides who is a victim of trafficking. For example, some children are told that while the Home Office accepts they are a victim of trafficking, they have received a ‘Negative Conclusive Grounds’ decision “for the purpose of the Convention”, as the Home Office does not believe the individual is in need of the Convention’s support.
Out of 390 children referred in the NRM’s first two years, only 36% received a ‘Positive Conclusive Grounds’ decision, which entitles them to further support under the Convention.
Christine Beddoe, Director of ECPAT UK, said: “This report, while useful, only gives us part of a much bigger picture. ECPAT UK has serious concerns about how the decisions of the National Referral Mechanism are made, decisions that have a huge impact on the lives of vulnerable children.
“We have a system where the UK Border Agency, whose job it is to reduce immigration, is also tasked with identifying child victims of trafficking. The low number of children who are given positive decisions in the NRM is very worrying and does not reflect the true problem of trafficking in this country.
“In addition, we know through our training of professionals that there just isn’t the knowledge and tools given to those working with children to identify victims of trafficking and refer children into the NRM.
“Trafficking is very hard to spot in the first place, but without awareness of the indicators and appropriate responses, it can go undetected for years, with catastrophic consequences for young victims. We certainly mustn’t forget those children who have not been identified – of which we know there are many, many more.”
The 489 suspected child victims of trafficking identified in the Baseline Assessment came from 43 different countries – with the top 10 countries being Romania (20%), Vietnam (13%), Nigeria (11%), UK (9%), Slovakia (9%), Morocco (4%), China (3%), Bulgaria (2%), Albania (2%) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (2%).
In the above cases, the type of exploitation suffered by the children was unknown in 22% of cases. Where known, sexual exploitation was most prevalent (30%), followed by criminal exploitation (26%), labour exploitation (13%) and domestic servitude (7%), with some children suffering multiple abuses.
According to the UKHTC, the report was produced using its own intelligence, data from NRM and responses from police, the UK Border Agency, the Gangmasters’ Licensing Authority and 25 NGOs. However, it notes that only 21 police forces responded, seven of those providing a nil return, so “an assessment of the complete picture of trafficking could not be made”.
Christine Beddoe, Director, ECPAT UK
Tel: 020 7233 9887 or 07906 341 889
Information for editors:
- ECPAT UK (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes) is a leading UK children’s rights organisation. ECPAT UK works with the highest levels of government, but also reaches out to practitioners and those working directly with children through research, training and capacity building
- Read ECPAT UK’s ‘Child Trafficking in the UK: A Snapshot’ report