Wednesday, 4th March 2020

The UK’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton, has called for decision making power to determine whether individuals are officially recognised as a victim of trafficking to be taken out of the Home Office and given to local authorities across the UK – something ECPAT UK has long campaigned for in our calls for better support for children.

Speaking to the Independent, the Commissioner echoed calls from ECPAT UK and organisations working with victims of trafficking to overhaul decision making within the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) – the UK’s system for identifying victims of trafficking.

Currently, when a professional suspects a child is a victim of trafficking, they refer the child’s case to decision makers in the Home Office. From our work with child victims and frontline professionals, we know that a multi-agency response is needed to ensure that child trafficking is addressed as a child protection issue within a child protection framework.

In particular, our research and frontline work has found repeated evidence of poor decision-making in the current central government process, as well as a worrying lack of child-specific knowledge on safeguarding, an inappropriate focus on immigration control and little provision of specialist support.

These failings were highlighted in our recent campaign to reform the NRM system and guarantee child victims of trafficking with specialist support – backed by 120,535 supporters calling on the government to act for trafficked children.

When the NRM was launched in 2008, ECPAT UK criticised the decision to ‘bypass’ the existing child protection system and put children into a  process designed for adult victims where important decisions are decided by staff within the Home Office and national police – most of whom never meet the individual child.

Instead, local multi-agency panels of professionals who work with the child are better placed to respond to child victims of trafficking, build a plan to prevent them from being re-trafficked and represent their long term best interests.

However, as the Commissioner made clear, any transfer of decision making power to local authorities must be fully funded so already overstretched children’s services can carry out these duties and provide child victims with the specialist support they need.

Catherine Baker, Senior Campaigns Officer at ECPAT UK, said

‘We welcome the Anti-Slavery Commissioner’s call for local decision making in child trafficking cases, an underlying principle in ensuring children can access a stable future.

‘All child victims, regardless of exploitation type, must have access to specialist support and decision making by local experts who understand the child’s case and have their best interests as a primary consideration.

‘We are also pleased to see the Commissioner call for an end to the needless lengthy waits for decision making, which leaves trafficked young people in limbo and unable to recover and plan for the future.

‘Additionally, we welcome the Commissioner’s call for greater transparency around data on child trafficking, without which it is difficult to determine the scale of the problem and set up adequate local and national responses to victims.’


Press contact
Sinead Geoghegan, Communications and Media Manager, ECPAT UK: [email protected], 0207 607 2136