The National Referral Mechanism, the framework for identifying victims of human trafficking or modern slavery and ensuring they receive the right support, had 3,137 child referrals in 2018 – a worrying increase of 48% since 2017.
ECPAT UK and Missing People published a report in December 2018, which found that 24% of all identified or suspected child victims of trafficking went missing from care in 2017. Unaccompanied refugee children are highly vulnerable to trafficking and it is unacceptable that trafficked children may be unable to access the support needed to recover from their traumatic experiences.
Independent Child Trafficking Advocates (ICTAs) were introduced by legislation in 2015 to represent and support children where there are reasonable grounds to believe they are victims of human trafficking. However, this service is only currently available in one third of local authorities across England and Wales.
An independent review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 published its final report in May, with one part of this review considering provision of ICTAs under the Act. The Government responded to the independent review in July 2019 and committed to refer to ICTAs as ‘Independent Child Trafficking Guardians’ (ICTGs) in future. The Government also outlined that it would publish a paper ahead of the national roll-out to set out its response to recommendations which it will consider further, including on the provision of the one-to-one service.
I would like to see the UK Government commit to urgently providing additional resources to all local authorities in order to enable them to provide guaranteed specialist support for all child victims of trafficking. I also support calls for the UK Government to establish a process which would find a long-term, sustainable arrangement for each child victim of trafficking, and provide these children with indefinite leave to remain in the UK if it is in their best interests.
Many of you noted that support for children who were trafficked disappeared when they turned 18. I was pleased to see at Labour Party conference that Dianne Abbott pledged that a Labour Government would repeal the 2014 Immigration Act and end the hostile environment. This would ease many of the burdens faced by children who have been trafficked.