Posted: 17 October 2014

Mark Anti-Slavery Day with better protection for trafficked children

With the Modern Slavery Bill high on the parliamentary agenda, there is hope this Anti-Slavery Day that child victims of trafficking will at last get the help and protection they need.

The Government has shown an important commitment to victims of trafficking by introducing a year-long pilot programme that for the first time provides trafficked children with advocates. Started in September these advocates – specialist, independent adults -- are key to making sure these children’s best interests are protected. But, while this is a step forward, more needs to be done to protect all children arriving in the UK on their own.

Every year between 2,500 to 3,000 children arrive in the UK on their own. We have long argued that all of these children should be allocated an independent advocate who should have the legal power to act in the child’s best interests. This is clearly recognised in international and European law and the UK should adhere to this.  

We have been working with a number of MPs to strengthen the bill which was discussed earlier this week in Parliament.

Read our briefings for MPs.

Reaching all trafficked children

Official figures of children trafficked into the UK are just the tip of the iceberg. In some cases this is because many are not identified as victims of this brutal crime. Also, many don’t know that they have been trafficked or are too afraid to seek help due to the trauma they have experience or mistrust of adults.

Shan's story*

Shan was 17 when he was trafficked from China. Because he did not have anyone acting on his behalf, the authorities did not believe he was trafficked. To make matters worse, social services wrongly assessed him as an adult causing him to be detained in an immigration removal centre for seven months.

Once The Children’s Society became involved in his case, we were able to help him and make sure he was recognised as a victim of trafficking. This meant he was able to get the support he needed to rebuild his life such as safe accommodation, mental health support, going to college, and support with his immigration claim.

Making sure that all children who are found on their own in the UK are appointed an advocate from the moment they arrive will not only ensure they get the help and protection they need by being treated first and foremost as children in need, but also will increase the identification of those who have been trafficked.  

Experiencing extreme trauma and exploitation

Like trafficked children, other children who come to the UK on their own are incredibly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Many are fleeing war, violence and persecution or harrowing journeys to the UK involving exploitation that leaves them both physically and emotionally scarred. 

We know from our experience that these children are further distressed by the complex legal and social systems they face on arrival. And in many cases, they fail to get the help from social services that they need.  

Legal powers

Without advocates, these children often end up destitute or homeless, denied the safety and support they are entitled to. These children need one consistent, trusted and trained adult to oversee and help them navigate the complex legal, immigration and welfare processes they face, as well as help them access services. 

To do this effectively, it is important that these advocates have the legal power to hold authorities to account, instruct solicitors on behalf of the child and represent their best interests. Without being granted legal authority, they will lack the ability to intervene at the times when they are most needed.

Working with parliamentarians to strengthen the bill

It is important that so many MPs from across the political spectrum are speaking passionately about the need to strengthen the role of these advocates under the Modern Slavery Bill. But it is disappointing that the Government has not made the changes that are needed to give this position legal authority.

As the bill heads into the House of Lords in the next few weeks, we will be working with peers to make changes to the bill to guarantee the protection of child victims of trafficking.  

Anti-Slavery Day shines an important light on this horrific crime. But we need to make sure more is done so independent advocates can protect these vulnerable trafficked children all the time, regardless of the day. 

*Name changed to protect his identity.

 

By Natalie Williams - Policy team
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Posted: 17 October 2013