Posted: 31 July 2012

While all eyes are on the Olympics

There is no doubt that hosting the Olympics is a hugely positive event for London and our country. The influx of visitors and pressure on borders and security has also highlighted the issue of whether large-scale sporting events encourage human trafficking.

This is a subject that our government is aware of. In 2010, the former minister for the Olympics, Tessa Jowell, told MPs that she was 'determined that traffickers will not exploit London 2012.' This year she said that 'current intelligence would suggest that we are unlikely to see large scale trafficking into London as a result of the games'.

Whether Jowell's prediction is due to measures taken to mitigate the threat, evidence we gathered illustrates that too little is known about the scale of human trafficking. We need greater awareness to eliminate this horrific form of modern-day slavery.

The true scale of child trafficking

Although official data from the UK Human Trafficking Centre estimates that 438 children were trafficked into the UK from April 2009 to June 2011, many trafficked children are undetected due to the hidden nature of this crime. The actual number is widely recognised as being significantly higher, with the global child trafficking market estimated to be worth over $12 billion a year. 

Trafficked children, some of whom are as young as five, are brought to the UK from all over the world. They generally come from backgrounds of extreme poverty, deprivation or conflict, or from unstable families. 

In some cases parents mistakenly believe that they are giving their children an opportunity for a better life by allowing them to be taken abroad by traffickers. Instead, the young people are forced into various forms of exploitation, including forced begging, sexual exploitation, domestic servitude or cannabis cultivation. While in the UK, many spend their childhoods trapped and unable to escape. 

Read our new briefing on child trafficking

Our recent briefing outlines the reality of child trafficking in the UK. It details key concerns identified by our centres across the country and sets out what the government and other agencies need to do to tackle the problem. In particular, there needs to be greater awareness and training among frontline agencies to identify victims of trafficking and provide them with specialist support. 

Shockingly, we often find trafficked children are not given the care, support or protection they need from local authorities, the UK Border Agency and the police. Restrictions on support for children from abroad and lack of awareness of trafficking means that these vulnerable children are too often turned away from vital services and, in some cases, criminalised for actions over which they had no control. 

We run a number of projects that provide specialist support to help children and young people from abroad who have no-one else to turn to in the UK. By assessing their needs, facilitating their access to therapeutic support and legal advice, as well as helping them lead a normal life with other children of their own age, these children can recover from their traumatic experiences.

Child trafficking is a hidden crime that takes place in the shadows of our society. So while all eyes are on the Olympics and who’s going for gold, it is our collective responsibility to be informed, remain vigilant and raise awareness of this horrific crime. We must demand that trafficked children are given the support they need, when they need it.

By Natalie Williams, Policy Officer

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By Natalie Williams - Policy team

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