Much less is known about the traffickers than their victims. The main reason why children are trafficked is for financial gain. This can include payment from or to the child’s parents and can place the child in debt bondage to the traffickers. Commonly, the trafficker receives payment from those wanting to exploit the child once he or she is in the UK. Traffickers frequently operate as part of an organised crime network in which many ‘agents’ or ‘facilitators’ play a role in enabling trafficking, often across countries. Some border officials have been known to accept bribes to allow victims to enter a country. Some organised crime groups are very complex and well-organised, trafficking a number of victims in many countries. However, sometimes a child is trafficked within a familial setting or a much smaller group of individuals as a ‘one-off’ occurrence.

The number of people who have been prosecuted for human trafficking is low compared to the number of victims identified. For example, the number of successful convictions in 2012 under the human trafficking legislation was just 12, up from eight the year before.

There are several key pieces of legislation that make human trafficking an offence, but there is no specific legislation for trafficking children. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland human trafficking offences are contained in two separate Acts: the Sexual Offences Act (2003), which criminalises trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation, and the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act (2004), which criminalises trafficking for forms of non-sexual exploitation.

There is an additional further offence, Section 71 of the Coroners and Justice Act (2009), which criminalises holding a person in slavery or servitude or requiring them to perform forced or compulsory labour without the need to prove trafficking. The Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004 also extends to Scotland, but was amended by the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010, which came into force in March 2011. This means a victim does not need to have previously been trafficked into the UK in relation to the offence of trafficking within the UK. It also expanded the provisions to include exploitation involving the removal of body parts and introduced a new criminal offence in respect of those who traffic persons into, within or out of a country other than the UK regardless of where the exploitation is to occur.

Section 22 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003 created offences of trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation, and apply into, out of and within the UK. Section 46 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 amended Section 22 to extend its scope so that it refers to facilitating “entry into” the UK as well as the “arrival in” the UK. A new offence was created under Section 22(1A) of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003 to criminalise those who traffic persons into, within or out of a country other than the UK. The Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 creates a new statutory offence of holding someone in slavery or servitude, or requiring a person to perform forced or compulsory labour.