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1.4.26 Safeguarding Children who may have been Trafficked


1. Introduction
2. Definitions
3. What is Trafficking?
4. Managing Individual Situations
4.1 Identification of Trafficked Children
4.2 Possible Indicators
4.3 Referrals
4.4 Single Assessment
4.5 Strategy Discussion/Meeting and Section 47 Enquiries
4.6 Meeting at the end of the Section 47 Enquiry
5. Supporting Trafficked Children
6. Returning Trafficked Children to their Country of Origin
7. Trafficked Children who are Looked After
8. Trafficked Children who are Missing
9. Internally Trafficked Children
10. Support Services and Useful Contacts

1. Introduction

The organised crime of child trafficking into and within the UK is an issue of considerable concern to all professionals with responsibility for the care and protection of children. Any form of trafficking children is a abuse. Trafficked children are coerced, deceived or forced into the control of others who seek to profit from their exploitation and suffering. UK-born children can be trafficked within the UK.

It is essential that professionals working across social care, education, health, immigration and criminal justice agencies demonstrate an understanding of trafficking and modern slavery and are able to identify trafficked children. Furthermore, everyone involved in the care and support of trafficked children should be trained to understand the particular issues likely to be faced by these 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.

Data on people suspected of being victims of trafficking is collated through the National Referral Mechanism (NRM).

2. 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. Care of unaccompanied and trafficked children: Statutory guidance for local authorities on the care of unaccompanied asylum seeking and trafficked children (2014) provides that where the age of a person is uncertain and there are reasons to believe that they are a child, they are presumed to be a child in order to receive immediate access to assistance, support and protection in accordance with Article 10(3) of the European Convention on action Against Trafficking in Human Beings. Age assessments should only be carried out where there is significant reason to doubt that the claimant is a child. Age assessments should not be a routine part of a local authority’s assessment of unaccompanied or trafficked children. Where age assessments are conducted, they must be Merton Compliant.

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.

3. What is 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:

  • 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.
*Please see the ECPAT – UK Briefing Paper on Child Trafficking – Begging and Organised Crime (published in September 2010), which draws attention to the issues of children who are trafficked for the purposes of forced begging and the specific criminal offences which may have been committed in the UK by the adults concerned. It emphasises that forced child begging should be seen as a form of exploitation and more recently has been considered a form of servitude and modern slavery. It highlights this as a particular, but not exclusive, issue with Romanian adults and children.

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.

Children may be recruited by inducements such as the promise of education, respectable employment or a better life, as well as more coercive methods such as abduction or kidnapping.

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.

In addition children of both UK and other citizenship are often trafficked internally within the UK.

See Section 9, Internally Trafficked Children.

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.

4. Managing Individual Situations

4.1 Identification of Trafficked Children

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

Once a child suspected of being trafficked has been referred to Children’s Social Care for Assessment, the social worker must work in close co-operation with staff in UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) and the Modern Slavery Human Trafficking Unit (MSHTU) who are familiar with patterns of trafficking into and within the UK. The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is a framework for identifying victims of human trafficking or modern slavery and ensuring they receive the appropriate support. It is also the mechanism through which the MSHTU collects data about victims.

The nationality or immigration status of a 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 UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) within 24 hours, but only when the child's need for protection from harm has been addressed and should not hold up action to protect the child.

Please click here to access the Modern Slavery / Human Trafficking Victims: referral and assessment forms (GOV.UK) which should be used refer victims / potential victims to the National Referral Mechanism.

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;
  • 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.

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 to Children’s Social Care. Practitioners should not do anything which would heighten the likelihood of the child suffering significant harm or being abducted, such as consulting with or trying to obtain the consent to the referral of those suspected of trafficking.

Prompt decisions are needed when the concerns relate to a child who may be trafficked to avoid the risk of the child being moved again.

Where a child has been trafficked, the Social Care Assessment should be carried out immediately as the opportunity to intervene is very narrow. Many trafficked children go missing from care, often within the first 48 hours. 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.

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 and Useful Contacts.

Evidence that the child may be a trafficked victim must be shared with National Referral Mechanism using an online form.

4.4 Single Assessment

Where a child has been trafficked, the Assessment should be carried out immediately as the opportunity to intervene is very narrow. Many trafficked children go missing from care, often within the first 48 hours. 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 child should be offered an Independent Visitor and, if they decline, their reasons should be recorded. Any Independent Visitor appointed should have appropriate training and demonstrate an understanding of the needs faced by unaccompanied or trafficked children.

Specific action during the Single Assessment of a child who is possibly trafficked should include:

  • Considering the need for an urgent Strategy Discussion - see Section 4.5, Strategy Discussion/Meeting and Section 47 Enquiries;
  • Seeing and speaking with the child and family members as appropriate - the adult purporting to be the child's parent, sponsor or carer should not be present at interviews with the child, or at meetings to discuss future actions;
  • Drawing together and analysing information from a range of sources, including relevant information from the country or countries in which the child has lived. All agencies involved should request this information from their counterparts overseas. Information about who to contact can be obtained via the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website or the appropriate Embassy or Consulate in London;
  • Checking all documentation held by child, the family, the referrer and other agencies. Copies of all relevant documentation should be taken and together with a photograph of the child be included in the social worker's file;
  • Checking with the local authority named contact for children missing from education;
  • Checking with the West Yorkshire Police Human Trafficking Unit.

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/Meeting and Section 47 Enquiries

An early Strategy Discussion should take place. 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 Disclosure and Barring Services (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.

Further Strategy Discussion/\Meetings may be required during the course of a Section 47 Enquiry.

4.6 Meeting at the end of the Section 47 Enquiry

On completion of a Section 47 Enquiry a 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 criminal 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.

5. Supporting Trafficked Children

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;

  • Where appropriate, accommodation under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 or an application of an Interim Care Order;
  • The child should be offered an Independent Visitor and, if they decline, their reasons should be recorded. Any Independent Visitor appointed should have appropriate training and demonstrate an understanding of the needs faced by unaccompanied or trafficked children;
  • In addition, unaccompanied children should be informed of the availability of the Assisted Voluntary Return Scheme.

6. Returning Trafficked Children to their Country of Origin

In many cases, trafficked children apply to the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI) 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.

Unaccompanied children should be informed of the availability of the Assisted Voluntary Return Scheme.

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. There remains a duty of care towards any child who is in the process of being returned to their country of origin.

A risk assessment needs to be undertaken into the potential risks a child may face if they were to return home. A safe reception arrangement needs to be in place with arrangements for education, health care. Different countries have varying arrangements to support repatriated children and the specific conditions of the relevant country should be investigated.

If repatriation is being considered for a child, the agency should work closely with the relevant local authority in the victim’s country of origin in order to ensure that the receiving authority has made provision for a continuous package of care. In order to facilitate this process it is possible to contact Children and Families Across Borders (CFAB). See Children from Abroad (Sources of Information).

7. Trafficked Children who are Looked After

Trafficked children identified as Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) may be Accommodated.

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 regional UK Visas and Immigration office and 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.

Carers of trafficked children and those who work with them should be alerted to the potential high risk to themselves and the child they are caring for. Trafficking is a serious offence often linked to organised and dangerous crime. Contingency plans, additional safety and security measures should be discussed with those involved and necessary action taken.

8. 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 UK Visas and Immigration and the Police. Local authorities should consider seriously the risk that a trafficked child is likely to go missing.

9. Internally Trafficked Children

Trafficking within the UK for sexual exploitation (internal trafficking) is defined under Section 58 of Sexual Offences Act 2003. An offence is committed if a person intentionally arranges or facilitates travel within the UK by another person (B) with the intent to do anything to (B) which will constitute a relevant offence.

The 'travel' needs only be from one location in a borough to another to constitute an offence. It is not necessary for an actual act of sexual abuse to take place, just evidencing the intent is sufficient.

Internally trafficked children and young people can be coerced into recruiting other peers to accompany them in the vehicles when they are being moved from one location to another. The traffickers exert strong control over their victims and often entice them into committing offences such as theft or drug related crime.

They are also commonly subject to physical abuse, including drug and alcohol, emotional and psychological abuse, as the victims are coerced into maintaining secrecy surrounding their circumstances.

See Section 4.2, Possible Indicators for indicators for children and young people that are being internally trafficked.

10. Support Services and Useful Contacts

Modern Slavery Human Trafficking Unit (MSHTU) (part of the National Crime Agency)

NSPCC Child Trafficking Advice Centre (Tel: 0808 800 5000)

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

ECPAT (Tel: 020 7233 9887)
UK children's rights organisation campaigning to protect children from commercial sexual exploitation.

UNICEF (Tel: 020 7405 5592)

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

PACE (previously called CROP - Coalition for the Removal of Pimping Tel:0113 240 3040) 
Parents against Child Sexual Exploitation: A voluntary organisation working to end the sexual exploitation of children and young people by pimps and traffickers - provides telephone support to carers, parents and families of sexually exploited children.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Tel: 0207 008 1500) 

Missing People Helpline