26 Mar 2020

The Office for National Statistics has published new figures showing a 91 per cent rise in referrals to the National Referral Mechanism of children suspected of being victims of labour exploitation – including criminal exploitation. 

Iryna Pona, Policy Manager at The Children’s Society, said:  “The big increase in the number of children experiencing the horrors of trafficking and modern slavery is a real worry. It affects both British children and those trafficked from outside the UK.  

“Criminal exploitation, including through county lines, is likely to be a significant factor, with children across the country being groomed with drugs, alcohol and promises of status and wealth, then coerced with terrifying threats, violence and sexual abuse. But there has also been a rise in referrals for sexual exploitation. Worryingly, the number of referrals dwarfs the number of successful prosecutions of those who exploit children. 

“Sadly, these referral figures may also be the tip of the iceberg, as too often, children at risk are not identified and awareness of the National Referral Mechanism among professionals and within the legal system remains patchy. Children face an unacceptable postcode lottery when it comes to accessing support. 

“It’s vital that the Government agrees a national strategy to tackle and disrupt child criminal exploitation, define the offence in law and ensure all children at risk and who are being exploited are identified and get timely support – including from independent child trafficking guardians, who should be rolled out across the country for all children. 

“During the current coronavirus crisis, vulnerable children may be more at risk of being targeted by criminals, with many missing out on supervision and support in school, college and alternative provisions. It’s crucial at this time that all have support from a trusted professional who can check on their well-being and help keep them safe.” 

Media enquiries 

For more information, please contact The Children’s Society’s media team on 0207 8414422 or media@childrenssociety.org.uk. For out-of-hours enquiries please call 07810 796 508.