Child trafficking must be viewed within the wider contextual factors which make children vulnerable to it, and which enable or benefit traffickers. Primarily, preventing child trafficking requires addressing and responding to the factors that make children vulnerable around the world, including poverty, inequality and conflict. It also requires highlighting government policies that exacerbate vulnerability and prevent children getting the support they need.

Many organisations, including ECPAT UK, have anti-trafficking programmes operating across the world, often working in collaboration with smaller organisations, and national and local governments.

There have been many awareness-raising programmes across the world, both in countries of origin, transit countries and destination countries for trafficking, particularly among those seen as ‘at risk’. While these help to educate young people and their families about the risks of paying agents for travel or sending children away to work, many people feel they have no option but to take such risks.

The Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking places specific responsibilities on states to reduce all children’s vulnerability to trafficking, in recognition of the heightened vulnerability of children to exploitation and abuse. It calls for a ‘protective environment’ for children. In the UK, anti-trafficking efforts have traditionally focused on the investigation and prosecution of traffickers, and on assisting children identified as potential victims of trafficking. There has been a less strategic and coordinated approach to actual prevention methods.

Immigration control is seen by some as a way of preventing trafficking, but while border officials can play an important role in identifying trafficking, all victims – adults or children – should not be defined by their immigration status. At the same time, poor safeguarding structures and a lack of safe, legal routes for migration to the UK means many children become more vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking while undertaking dangerous journeys. Once they are in the UK, harsh policies that criminalise irregular migration also increase children's vulnerability to trafficking and prevent them from seeking assistance from authorities.

ECPAT UK has called for improved training for police, local authority staff, health practitioners, border officials and all frontline workers who are in contact with children in order to improve identification of risk. Robust and regular training is essential for staff to be able to identify potential indicators, be aware of trends and profiles, know how to respond accordingly and keep a child safe. In addition, there must be robust legislation and policy, as well as proactive police investigations that include cross-border cooperation. Children should never be sent back to their country of origin without proper risk assessments and full assessment of the best interests of the child which includes their views.

Children who are identified as suspected victims must be safeguarded and given safe accommodation and support so that, once in local authority care, they do not go missing and become re-trafficked, which is a major risk for those who have already been exploited. Unfortunately, many children return to their trafficking situation because they are in debt bondage or they fear repercussions if they do not. It is the responsibility of those who have a duty to children to ensure they are kept safe and informed, and that the risk of re-trafficking is reduced.