Trafficking constitutes a grave violation of human rights and child victims of trafficking have special rights to protection from the UK Government. Their rights are outlined in national legislation as well as the European and international legal framework.

For example, the UK is required to create a ‘protective environment’ and find a ‘durable solution’ for child victims to reduce their vulnerability to trafficking. Other obligations that are specific to children include:

  • Provide for representation of the child by a legal guardian
  • Take the necessary steps to identify the child’s identity and nationality
  • Use ‘benefit of the doubt’ when the age of a child is uncertain and there is reason to believe the victim is a child, by ensuring that the child is presumed to be a child
  • Make every effort to locate his/her family when this is in the best interests of the child
  • Give assistance, support and protective measures to child victims, including specific additional assistance to children who are unaccompanied or separated
  • Ensure privacy and protection
  • Provide appropriate and safe accommodation
  • Facilitate access to medical treatment, interpreter services, counselling, education, legal information, advice and assistance in criminal proceedings
  • Provide residence permits when legally necessary and in the child’s best interests
  • Refrain from returning a child to their country of origin if there is an indication, following a risk and security assessment, that such return would not be in the best interest of the child
  • Ensure that the number of interviews with the child is as limited as possible and that interviews take place without delay and in premises adapted for that purpose
  • Provide access to possible compensation schemes
  • Take necessary measures when a child is involved in criminal proceedings, particularly when giving evidence
  • The child has the right to be heard and have their wishes taken into account
  • Ensure a child is not criminalised in any way or liable for any status-related offence
  • Ensure a child is never placed in a law enforcement detention or immigration detention facility

The Convention on the Rights of the Child applies to all children under the jurisdiction or control of a state, which means that non-UK national child victims of trafficking are entitled to the same protection as UK nationals in all matters, regardless of their immigration status.

Suspected child victims of trafficking who arrive in the UK unaccompanied will usually be accommodated by the local authority. They should be safeguarded as statutory agencies have a duty to safeguard children in their area under Section 11 of the Children Act (2004).


Child trafficking from abroad is often associated with unaccompanied children seeking asylum, but evidence demonstrates a more complex picture in reality. An increasing number of children are trafficked from countries within the EU. The vulnerability of these children is often overlooked at point of entry because they are able to pass through immigration checkpoints as EU citizens. Also, children from non-EU states can travel to the UK on a valid visa. It is important to note that trafficked children may arrive in the UK alone or arrive accompanied by others, including their traffickers.

Some children will have been directed to claim asylum by their traffickers. Once placed in local authority care, the trafficker will pick up the child or the child will go missing and return to their trafficker. This is usually because the child has been ordered to follow the trafficker’s instructions and is both scared of the repercussions of disobeying the trafficker and wary of the UK authorities.

In our experience, most children have no knowledge of the asylum process when they enter the country, and it is only when they come into contact with professionals that they may be advised to do this in order to stay in the UK and be protected from re-trafficking and further harm. Some children remain undetected for many years without coming to the attention of authorities.

Protection claims for child victims of trafficking should be made in tandem with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009, the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings, the EU Directive on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims, current case law, the Refugee Convention 1951 (and the 1967 Protocol), and the Human Rights Act 1998, if applicable, to provide the most comprehensive arguments.

Concern has been raised about negative trafficking decisions (issued by the National Referral Mechanism) being used in asylum appeals of victims of trafficking to discredit children’s claims. ECPAT UK believes such practice is unlawful, and the two processes should not be conflated.