Thursday, 4th April 2019

Every Child Protected Against Trafficking (ECPAT UK), The Children’s Society and 43 other organisations have today written a letter to Sajid Javid, urging him to provide independent guardians to all separated, unaccompanied and trafficked children in the UK. 

Signatories to the letter include the NGOs UNICEF UK, the Refugee Council, Action for Children, the International Organization for Migration, as well as professional children’s guardians, social workers and children’s rights advocates. The group joined forces to call on the Home Secretary to introduce independent guardians for all separated, unaccompanied and trafficked children, following the publication of the report on child trafficking advocates as part of the review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

ECPAT UK’s current online campaign on this issue has been backed by more than 27,000 public supporters. The campaign calls for specialist support workers to help all separated and unaccompanied young people, as well as those who are already identified as potential victims of modern slavery.

The review is considering the support available to young victims of modern slavery, among other provisions. While the group of organisations welcome many of the recommendations made by the review panel, they contend that the report has missed an opportunity to protect some of the most vulnerable children in society; those in the UK on their own, separated from their parents and with no one acting in their best interests.

A significant number of unaccompanied and separated children report exploitation on their journeys and are at risk of being trafficked once in the UK due to their vulnerability. However, the Independent Child Trafficking Advocates (ICTA) scheme which is under review is currently limited to children formally identified as potential victims of trafficking and only available in a few parts of the country.

ECPAT UK and many of the organisations that are signatories to the letter have campaigned for the introduction of independent guardianship for separated, unaccompanied and trafficked children for decades. Similar schemes already exist in Northern Ireland and Scotland, where guardianship is a recognised measure for assisting the identification and prevention of child trafficking. The respective schemes are provided through each country’s modern slavery legislation, in recognition of its role in identifying and preventing child trafficking. The ongoing review of the Modern Slavery Act provides a crucial opportunity to make sure this form of vital protection is put in place for unaccompanied and separated children in England and Wales as well.

Despite this, the review made some positive recommendations for children, including full roll out of the ICTA service across England and Wales as soon as possible and extending the ICTA service to individuals aged up to 21 or 25 years old, subject to circumstances. We now urge the Home Secretary to accept these recommendations and listen to our calls for a more extensive scheme of independent guardianship for all separated, unaccompanied and trafficked children.

ECPAT UK’s chief executive, Katherine Mulhern, said:

“While there are positive recommendations emerging from this review, it is extremely disappointing that this issue has been so narrowly viewed.

“Those who work directly with unaccompanied, separated and trafficked children know that guardianship leads to improved identification of victims of trafficking, and the ability to prevent exploitation in the future. Yet in England and Wales there is still no comprehensive guardianship service available to them.

“Our campaigns around this issue have huge public support and demonstrate the public care about the lives of these particularly vulnerable children. That is why so many of us are calling on the Home Secretary to urgently make this happen.”

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Press contact

Sinead Geoghegan, Communications and Media Manager, [email protected], 0207 607 2136