Thursday, 26th March 2020

As the Covid-19 crisis exposes the importance of protecting vulnerable groups, 42 MPs have written to the Home Secretary demanding that the government meet its promises made to child victims 5 years ago in the Modern Slavery Act. Led by Alex Norris MP, MPs from all the political parties expressed that they are ‘deeply concerned’ that the provisions in the Act had still not been implemented.

5 years ago, the government committed to providing guardians for child victims of trafficking - a vital protection measure introduced through its Modern Slavery Act. But as this landmark legislation turns five years old today, the majority of child victims are still left waiting for this service.

We were delighted when our ten year campaign led to the introduction of this vital service in law - a major step forward for victim support. The service provides an independent, trusted adult with specialist knowledge to support a child through the many complex services they encounter in the UK and help them access their rights. As we’ve experienced during the coronavirus pandemic, in times of crisis it’s more important than ever that young people have someone who can advocate for their housing, immigration and health needs.

But five years after committing to guardianship in law, the government has unduly delayed rolling this service out across England and Wales, leaving the majority of child victims unprotected. The service is still only available to children in a third of local authorities, and even then, only for children formally identified as potential victims of trafficking.

This is despite it being well established that the service helps unaccompanied children feel comfortable enough to disclose when they’ve been exploited, which enables them to access support services for victims. This is why we continue to call for guardians to be provided to all unaccompanied and trafficked children as part of our stable futures campaign.

Georgina*, a child victim from ECPAT UK’s youth programme explained how vital this service is for her:

[She] helps me for everything. She helped me about hospital appointment, GP appointment, referring me to right people to get extra support, she helped me with immigration case, sending lots of emails and reports to social services etc. She is the most helpful person.

Many young victims of trafficking supported by ECPAT UK’s youth programme are being hit hard by this unfolding emergency, and as well as meeting their crisis needs, their entitlement to long term support must not be forgotten. If young people had received this support five years ago, many of them could be better equipped and in a better position to face these current challenges.

Catherine Baker, Senior Campaigns Officer, ECPAT UK said

“Five years is simply an inexcusable delay to provide something that is already enshrined in law. Young people should have been given this protection five years ago. Why should some children benefit from this service while others are left without support?

Who knows how many lives may have been changed for the better and the very different situations they might be in now as we face this current health crisis, had they received the support they were entitled to right from the start.”

An independent review of the guardianship service found that having a guardian helps reduce children’s vulnerability to going missing from care and being re-trafficked.

Additionally, the value provided by guardians is acknowledged by a range of frontline workers. Harry Dick, a police officer specialising in cases of modern slavery and human trafficking, said:

‘The Independent Child Trafficking Guardians (formerly Advocates) have been a fantastic measure in protecting children from immediate harm and in providing long term support and solutions to protect them from trafficking. The work they do in advocating for the children’s rights is fantastic.

‘The work they do on a one to one basis is immeasurable and should be lauded. They bring some degree of normality and peace and help children to move towards a better future.

‘They should be rolled out nationally as soon as possible and should be also be expanded to cover one to one support for UK children as well as non-UK children.

‘Whilst this will cost in the short term –  it will in the long term be more cost effective than current processes with too many children being trafficked and re-trafficked for the lack of effective support.’  

Ask your MP to take this up with the Home Secretary so all trafficked children are given a guardian

*Name changed to protect the young person’s identity


Press contact

Sinead Geoghegan, Communications and Media Manager, ECPAT UK, [email protected]