• Children and young people who have experienced modern slavery have contributed to research following identification of human trafficking, and while navigating the UK immigration and social care systems, in a new report
  • Interim research findings published today follows the news that Olympic Champion Sir Mo Farah was trafficked to the UK as a child, and focuses on the realisation of children’s rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, including non-discrimination, protection and care, participation and decisions made in their best interests
  • Many young victims of trafficking say UK immigration procedures are often worse than their experiences of exploitation
  • Safety, being believed, having access to good quality advice and support, trust, freedom and equality are highlighted by young participants as being crucial for achieving positive outcomes for child victims of trafficking
  • Recommendations from the research call on the Home Office to ensure the immigration and asylum system does not re-traumatise children, with an emphasis on those procedures that have the potential to increase the risk of exploitation

Thursday 21st July – Young victims of modern slavery have shared their experiences following identification of human trafficking through the UK immigration and social care systems in a new interim report published today (ahead of final findings which will be published later this year). It follows the news that Olympic champion Sir Mo Farah was trafficked to the UK as a child.

The research focuses on the experiences of young victims of modern slavery, also subject to immigration control, who talk about their endurance of complex and protracted social care and criminal justice processes in the UK, emphasising in particular the negative impact of UK immigration procedures, which many describe as being worse than experiences of human trafficking. They say these procedures undermine the recognition and realisation of their human rights, and place them at risk of further abuse and exploitation.  

Feeling and being safe is key to securing positive outcomes, the participants say, and that central to achieving this are systems and processes that are child-friendly and focus on creating safe environments in which young people are able to disclose exploitation. Access to trusting relationships, independent guardians and high-quality legal advice were also key themes that emerged from the research. It is also important to the young participants that they are given opportunities to be heard, and freedom to contribute to society.

“It is important for people to feel safe when they are sleeping in a new country… The staff need to be kind and nice because maybe people are coming from traumatic experiences. Staff have to be very understanding of what we have been through.” (Young victim of modern slavery)

The young participants highlight the multiple and persistent barriers to accessing documentation and the challenges involved in securing decisions relating to their immigration status – in 2019-20, only 2% of child trafficking victims with irregular immigration status in the UK were granted the leave to remain they are entitled to under international law. They talk about the distressing nature of the immigration process itself, and the difficulties presented by living for years in immigration ‘limbo’, while decisions on their status remained outstanding.

 “I don’t have paper. Not free. Still in prison.” (Young victim of modern slavery)

The report summarises the main findings from a 12-month participatory research study based on the voices of young people who have experience of modern slavery. The research aimed to understand what positive outcomes for these young people would look like, and what the pathways towards these positive outcomes might be. It examines how to ensure protection, and support for children who have experienced modern slavery. The research was led by the Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice at Sheffield Hallam University and the University of Bedfordshire’s Institute of Applied Social Research, in partnership with ECPAT UK (Every Child Protected Against Trafficking).

The report makes a series of recommendations to UK government and devolved administrations, calling for children identified as potential victims of slavery and trafficking to be promptly assigned an independent legal guardian, for the Home Office to ensure the immigration and asylum system does not re-traumatise children and for the Ministry of Justice to ensure all child victims can access a solicitor who has the expertise to properly represent them. The recommendations also highlight that all decisions about children must be made with their best interests as the primary consideration, and that local authority children’s services must enable psychological and physical recovery for child victims, particularly in the provision of safe accommodation and access to mental health services.

Professor Patricia Hynes, Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice, Sheffield Hallam University, said: “Children and young people have rights – rights to be heard, participate and to be able to develop their lives and contribute to society. We found a real lack of focus in existing literature regarding these rights to personal development and this contrasts starkly with the way young people envisage their own futures. We also found that good practice exists to ensure young people affected by human trafficking can experience trusting relationships in spaces that are safe and offer some stability. If we are serious about enabling positive outcomes for all these young people, these examples of good practice could and should be replicated beyond the excellent work of a few outstanding organisations.”

Dr Helen Connolly, Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Bedfordshire, said: “This was an incredible project to be part of. The focus on outcomes from the perspective of children and young people with experiences of trafficking and exploitation is truly innovative. As a research team, we really hope it will generate important conversations and actions in policy and practice that are anchored in international children's rights and focused on sustainable futures for young people with experiences of trafficking and exploitation.  It was amazing to be able to work with the most wonderful young people as co-creators of this research. Their commitment to the project, to each other and to young people of the future, was so life affirming. I feel very proud of what we achieved as a research team together with them.”

Patricia Durr, CEO of ECPAT UK, said: “Many of the young people who participated in this research felt that the biggest barriers to achieving stable futures and positive outcomes for themselves are embedded in the very systems that are designed to support them. They often find the UK immigration, social care and criminal justice systems to be discriminatory and re-traumatising. We have the means to listen to young people about these barriers – it’s critical that we uphold their right to be heard, and that we use these findings to re-shape UK systems so that they effectively protect and care for child victims of trafficking and exploitation.”

Jakub Sobik, Communications Director at the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre, which funded the study, said: “Putting views of children and young people who experienced trafficking at the centre of research is vital, so that their lived experience can inform the design of policies responding to modern slavery.

“We are looking forward to reading the final report from this research, including what long term outcomes of support of care and protection and pathways to achieving them are most important from the children’s perspectives”.


Notes to Editors

The research in this project was conducted independently of ECPAT UK’s ‘Stable Futures’ campaign.

Pandora Haydon, Communications and Campaigns Manager, ECPAT UK, [email protected],  07402 113 985

About the Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice at Sheffield Hallam University

The Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice at Sheffield Hallam University is a leading centre for human rights and social justice. The Centre is home to a range of applied research, projects, education and scholarship including work around social justice, rights, law, policing, community justice, gender-based violence, refugee rights, human trafficking and modern slavery.

About the Institute of Applied Social Research at the University of Bedfordshire

The Institute of Applied Social Research at the University of Bedfordshire brings together inter-disciplinary research which anticipates and shapes key changes in policy, administration and practice. Its research focuses on the forced migration and human trafficking of children and young people, safeguarding children and young people from child sexual exploitation and other forms of abuse, contextual safeguarding, looked after children and care leavers and youth crime and victimisation, policing and the operation of the youth justice and community safety services.


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.

About the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre

The Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre (Modern Slavery PEC) was created by the investment of public funding to enhance understanding of modern slavery and transform the effectiveness of law and policies designed to address it. The Centre funds and co-creates high quality research with a focus on policy impact, and brings together academics, policymakers, businesses, civil society, survivors and the public on a scale not seen before in the UK to collaborate on solving this global challenge. The Centre is a consortium of six academic organisations led by the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law and is funded by the Art and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) on behalf of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). Read more about the Modern Slavery PEC at

The study was funded as part of the portfolio of projects aiming to improve key areas of support for people affected by modern slavery in the UK. The views expressed in this briefing are those of the authors and not necessarily of the Modern Slavery PEC.