Modern slavery, human trafficking and other forms of child exploitation are likely to increase in the UK, according to a new report by the National Crime Agency (NCA).

The National Strategic Assessment of Serious and Organised Crime, which presents emerging trends in trafficking, abuse and exploitation of children in the UK, warned that the scale of trafficking, including the number of victims and offenders, is “likely increasing steadily”, with more victims being recruited online.

ECPAT UK welcomed the report’s recognition of the growing issue of exploitation across “county lines”: the supply of drugs from urban hubs to county towns, usually associated with urban street gangs. A key feature of this trend is the persistent and systematic exploitation of vulnerable persons, including children as young as 12, by gangs to transport, store and distribute drugs in county markets. Victims are also vulnerable to sexual exploitation.  

Grooming to elicit illegal images of children and child sexual exploitation and abuse videos is also escalating, according to the report, which has the potential to increase the number of abusive images in circulation.  

The report further highlights the threat of travelling sex offenders seeking to occupy positions of trust within charity work or overseas teaching, who “demonstrate an acute commitment to abuse children”.

Chloe Setter, Head of Advocacy, Policy & Campaigns, ECPAT UK, said: “The National Crime Agency has rightly highlighted worrying trends with regard to the abuse of children, both in the UK and abroad.

“Such evidence clearly demonstrates the need for our Government to provide a robust response to child exploitation. This must include proactive prevention work to stop abuse happening in the first place, as well as specialist support for children who have been exploited.”