The number of child victims of trafficking and modern slavery in the UK soared by 22% in 2014, according to a new report by the National Crime Agency (NCA)

During this time, 732 children were identified as potential victims of trafficking, the highest number recorded since the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre began estimating the prevalence of the issue in 2011.  

ECPAT UK, a leading children’s rights charity, called the report an urgent wake-up call to all UK government agencies responsible for child protection to do more to identify children at risk of exploitation and to ensure a robust safeguarding response.

According to the report, NCA Strategic Assessment: The Nature and Scale of Human Trafficking in 2014, children were most commonly trafficked in the UK for sexual exploitation (237) and exploitation in criminal activities (142), while others were subjected to domestic servitude (56), labour exploitation (46), multiple exploitation (34) and organ harvesting (1).

A total of 58% of all child victims of trafficking were aged 15 and under, while 37% were between 16 and 17. 

The UK, Vietnam, Albania, Slovakia, Romania and Nigeria were the most common countries of origin for trafficked children for the second year in a row. 

According to ECPAT UK, the figures, while only indicative given continued barriers to identification, referral and protection, highlighted the scale of the task to implement the provisions of the recent Modern Slavery Act and to improve support for child victims of trafficking, including the establishment of a system of independent guardianship/advocacy for all trafficked children.

The report also revealed several emerging trends, including: 

Authorities recorded a 267% increase in child trafficking cases from Eritrea and a 175% increase from Hungary. 

While sexual exploitation continued to disproportionately affect girls, 12 boys had also been found to be sexually exploited.  

Of the 142 child victims of trafficking for exploitation in criminal activities, 50% were exploited in benefit claims. 

While exploitation in drug production, most notably cannabis cultivation, continued to impact children from Vietnam at high rates (86%), children from Albania were also exploited in cannabis cultivation and other drugs related offences.

Chloe Setter, Head of Policy, Advocacy & Campaigns, ECPAT UK, said: “Children are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and are targeted by those who recognise they are easier to groom and control. We know that many children are not being identified as victims of trafficking and slavery because of a lack of understanding of the issue on the frontline. Questions need to be asked why some children are vulnerable to such exploitation and whether our child protection systems are adequate to protect every child in the UK.

“Yet what is perhaps more worrying is that even those identified face barriers to accessing services and often disappear from the care of local authorities and are re-trafficked. 

“These shocking statistics should act as a wake-up call for public authorities to ensure they are adequately equipped to deal with slavery in its modern context. In addition, the Government must ensure local authorities have the resources to effectively safeguard these highly vulnerable children and must actually commit to put in place meaningful protection systems, such as the proposed independent advocates scheme in England and Wales.”