Tuesday, 3rd March 2020

Following the release of the government’s approach to the UK’s future relationship with the EU, ECPAT UK is extremely concerned about the government’s intention to withdraw from key European mechanisms for combating serious organised crime and the impact this will have on vulnerable children.

The government has announced it will not seek membership of Europol – the EU’s law enforcement agency which handles criminal intelligence, or Eurojust – the European Judicial Cooperation Unit, which coordinates prosecutions across jurisdictions in cases of transnational crime. The government will also not seek participation in the European Arrest Warrant – used to extradite offenders across national jurisdictions.

Additionally, from the end of 2020 the UK will be unable to access and share information via the Schengen Information System II which creates alerts for missing children. The government is seeking to access similar capabilities through its negotiations, but it remains unclear what those will be.

As detailed in ECPAT UK and Missing Children Europe’s recent Interact report and our briefing for the Initiative for Children in Migration, cooperation across borders is essential to safeguard children from exploitation. In particular, these mechanisms are vital to identify and protect children being trafficked across Europe and investigate and prosecute offenders, often transnationally-operating organised criminal groups. A prime example of their use was the safeguarding of 53 children suspected as being victims of trafficking following pan-European action led by UK law enforcement.

Similarly, Eurojust has played an essential role in facilitating and funding Joint Investigation Teams (JIT) in cases of child trafficking. A JIT consists of judicial and police authorities from at least two Member States, who collaboratively conduct a cross-border criminal investigation. JITs are an essential tool for law enforcement to fulfil their investigative duties when the crime involves two or more Member States and there is a need for cooperation. 

Laura Durán, Senior Policy and Research Officer at ECPAT UK, said

‘Tackling human trafficking is currently a priority for Europol and EMPACT (the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats), for which a multi-year strategic and operational plan has been devised to enhance cross-border cooperation.

‘Losing membership of these essential European instruments will significantly decrease the UK’s ability to safeguard children from trafficking and investigate complex transnational cases. We’re very concerned about the lack of consideration of the impact of these decisions on child protection and safeguarding.

‘While ECPAT UK welcomes the government’s commitment to negotiate an agreement for reunifying unaccompanied children with their families as this is crucial to prevent children in migration from being exploited and risking dangerous routes, we urge the government to reconsider its approach to cross-border law enforcement.’


Press contact

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