ECPAT UK has today recognised leading Parliamentary children’s rights advocate Lord McColl with its 2015 Children’s Champion award. 

As an active member of the House of Lords, Lord McColl has shown immense leadership in advancing the rights of trafficked children during his time in Parliament, helping spearhead calls for a system of legal independent guardianship for child victims of trafficking. 

For more than a decade, Lord McColl has raised his concerns about the lack of specialist support for trafficked children in the UK, tabling amendments to provide child victims of trafficking a legal guardian in several bills, including the Protection of Freedoms Bill (2012), the Children & Families Bill (2013) and the Immigration Bill (2014). In 2010, he tabled a private members bill for a standalone trafficking bill containing a clause for independent child advocates, recognising the specific needs of these vulnerable children.

His speech back in 2012 during a debate on his Protection of Freedoms Bill amendment for child guardians sums up his understanding of the complexities of child trafficking and the need for improved protection:

“The reality of trafficked children is that they are extremely vulnerable and need appropriate and specialist support once rescued from their situation of exploitation. It is an incredibly sad reflection on our priorities as a nation that we should take such poor care of these extremely vulnerable children. First, they are kidnapped or lured under false pretences and trafficked to the United Kingdom, from a foreign country with a foreign language, usually far away from their families. Then they are rescued and all too often while in local authority care they are lost, probably re-trafficked. I find it hard to conceive that we are not doing more to help these children.”

Sadly, in the years that followed, despite campaigning and pressure from ECPAT UK and children’s charities, and leading Parliamentarians such as Lord McColl, this message went unheeded – until 2015. When the Modern Slavery Bill was announced in 2013, Lord McColl once again sought to promote guardianship for trafficked children and tabled key amendments.

His passionate speeches helped secure a successful vote in the House of Lords, which, in turn, helped lead to provision in the new Act for ‘Child Trafficking Advocates’ for England and Wales – a major step forward in ECPAT UK’s decade-long campaign for a system of guardianship for trafficked children that was supported by 80,000 of our supporters. However, last week the Government announced it would not yet commence the provisions in the Modern Slavery Act to provide each trafficked child with an independent advocate. Despite the setback, ECPAT UK, and its supporters, said it would continue to campaign for prompt implementation of the clause.   

Accepting the award in the House of Lords, Lord McColl said: “I am humbled and honoured to receive this award in what has been a momentous year in the fight against exploitation and trafficking. The Modern Slavery Act has laid a great foundation for protecting these exceptionally vulnerable children, but it is only a first step. We must continue to develop our systems of care to ensure all trafficked children receive the support and protection that they most desperately need.

“I commend ECPAT UK for their excellent work supporting and giving a voice to trafficked children. Our recent achievements in Parliament owe a great deal to the many charities who have informed and supported us over many years.”

Bharti Patel, CEO, ECPAT UK, said: “We are delighted to present the 2015 Children’s Champion award to Lord McColl. He has demonstrated a near unparalleled commitment to advancing the rights of child victims of trafficking in Parliament over many years, ensuring that the specific plight of exploited children did not go unheard.

We thank him for his dedication to this important cause. ECPAT UK now looks forward to working with Lord McColl and other Parliamentarians to ensure the Government honours its commitment to ensure all trafficked and at-risk children in the UK are able to benefit from the protection of an independent advocate.”