Latest news News and press releases 45 unaccompanied children went missing from the hotels in which they were unlawfully housed by the Home Office over 10-month period New data shows that in a ten-month period, 45 unaccompanied children arriving in the UK went missing after they were unlawfully placed outside the child protection system in hotel accommodation by the Home Office Home Office figures released in response to a Freedom of Information request submitted by children’s rights charity ECPAT UK show that between June 2021 and March 2022, unaccompanied children went missing from the hotels at an average rate of one every week, with more than ten going missing in just one of those months ECPAT UK has received reports of Albanian boys as young as 11-12 going missing, including a report of a child ‘jumping out of windows’ Parliamentary Question responses show the Home Office has housed 1,606 children in hotels between July 2021 and June 2022, even though this is unlawful Unaccompanied children who go missing are at high risk for serious harm, abuse, exploitation, trafficking and re-trafficking These figures are published as the full raft of measures in the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 are coming into force, reducing protections and increasing the likelihood of trafficked and unaccompanied children going missing Saturday 2nd July – New data obtained via a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by children’s rights charity ECPAT UK (Every Child Protected Against Trafficking UK) shows that 45 unaccompanied children in the UK went missing in between June 2021 and March 2022 after the Home Secretary placed them in Home Office led hotel accommodation. Immigration Minister Kevin Foster’s responses to Parliamentary Questions reveal the Home Office has housed 1,606 children in hotels between July 2021 and June 2022, but the ongoing policy of placing children outside child protection and welfare frameworks in Home Office-acquired hotel accommodation is unlawful. These are children without parental care and should be looked after by local authorities according to the law. There is no legal instrument that permits the Home Secretary to effectively act in loco parentis in this way. It is in contravention of the Home Office’s own obligations under the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009, it denies children their rights to protection and care under the Children Act 1989, and it breaches changes to the law in England made in September 2021 which banned the placement of those aged 15 and younger in unregulated settings. Unaccompanied children turning 16 and 17 who are looked after are not afforded this protection from being placed in unregulated accommodation without care.1 Unaccompanied children are at significant risk for serious harm, including abuse, exploitation, and missing episodes are often an indication that children and young people have been re-trafficked. The Nationality and Borders Act 2022, which received Royal Assent on 28th April 2022, will reduce identification and protection for child victims of trafficking, despite rising concerns about the risk of child exploitation and trafficking as 4.3 million children have been displaced by the war in Ukraine2. ECPAT UK has received reports of Albanian boys as young as 11-12 going missing, including a report of a child ‘jumping out of windows.’ Through years of research, ECPAT UK has established that child victims of trafficking are at significantly high risk of going missing.3 The most recent findings from a joint ECPAT UK and Missing People report found that 13% of unaccompanied children went missing from care in 2020 (692 of 5,263).3 Feedback from members of ECPAT UK’s youth groups for victims and survivors of child trafficking identified the care and support they receive in their ‘home’ as the number one priority for preventing missing episodes, with the presence of trained, knowledgeable carers and the support of guardians with whom trusting relationships can be established rating most highly.4 Patricia Durr, CEO of ECPAT UK, said: “To say that it is appalling that vulnerable and traumatised unaccompanied children are being unlawfully placed by the Home Secretary in hotels is an understatement. These children have arrived without parental care in England where we have a very well-established (albeit under-funded) child protection and welfare framework to assess their needs look after them. “ECPAT UK, along with many others, have raised the alarm about this since the outset. As it stands the Home Secretary is effectively acting in loco parentis and is ultimately responsible for these children and what happens to them. There is no local authority with corporate parent responsibility for them as is the case for all other children who are without parental care and need to be looked after. This is a very dangerous precedent which leaves some of the most traumatised and in-need children at risk and outside of our child welfare and protection system. It is in direct contravention of the Children Act 1989. “Children’s rights to protection and care are being undermined. The Nationality and Borders Act has passed into law without any special protections for children in the modern slavery and trafficking part of the legislation, and introduces measures which will reduce identification, deny protection and penalise child victims for their own exploitation. In short, it is hard not to conclude that the current hostile agenda is taking priority over children’s rights and welfare, creating dangerous and unlawful precedents.” ENDS Notes to Editors Pandora Haydon, Communications and Campaigns Manager, ECPAT UK, [email protected], 07402 113 985 Full FOI response available here. Full report available here. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2022/mar/17/government-lawful-in-allowing-16--and-17-year-olds-in-unregulated-care-court-rules https://www.unicef.org/press-releases/more-half-ukraines-children-displaced-after-one-monthwar#:~:text=Ongoing%20violence%20across%20the%20country,that%20could%20last%20for%20generations&text=NEW%20YORK%2FGENEVA%2FKYIV%2C,estimated%207.5%20million%20child%20population. ECPAT UK and Missing People. (2016). Heading Back to Harm; ECPAT UK and Missing People. (2018). Still in Harm’s Way; ECPAT UK and Missing People. (2022). When Harms Remains Ibid About ECPAT UK ECPAT UK (Every Child Protected Against Trafficking UK) is a leading children’s rights charity, campaigning and advocating for the rights of children to be protected from all forms of exploitation. We work directly with young victims of trafficking and their voices and experiences informs all our work. ECPAT UK is part of the ECPAT International network, which is present in 103 countries, working to end the sexual abuse and exploitation of children.