Tuesday, 9th July 2024  

As the new UK government takes office, ECPAT UK urges immediate and decisive action to address ongoing failures and to uphold the rights of child victims.  The charity has today published its Call to Action to Combat Child Trafficking

Child trafficking is a gross violation of children’s basic human rights, depriving them of their right to live free from abuse. In the United Kingdom, child trafficking remains a significant issue, with devastating impacts on affected children and wider societyECPAT UK highlights that recent regressive measures have increased risks for trafficked children. With children accounting for 44% of all referrals to the National Referral Mechanism and 7,432 potential child victims identified in 2023, urgent action is necessary.

Key Priorities to Combat Child Trafficking

  1. Commit to ending all forms of child exploitation: the government must develop a comprehensive UK-wide strategy to prevent and tackle child trafficking and modern slavery. This strategy should prioritise prevention, protection, and care, ensuring a cohesive response across all sectors. 

  1. Ensure adequate funding and resources: all authorities involved in safeguarding children must be adequately funded to address and respond effectively to child trafficking. Resources should also target root causes, including international development and child poverty. 

  1. Resource local authorities for care and protection: local authority children’s services need sufficient funding to provide necessary care and protection. Unaccompanied children must never be placed alone in hotels and should always receive appropriate care. 

  1. Align immigration functions with child protection: Child victims of trafficking should receive immigration leave upon a positive National Referral Mechanism (NRM) decision, with a minimum of five years and a path to indefinite leave to remain, prioritising their best interests. 

  1. Expand Independent Guardianship:all separated children should have access to an independent guardian to advocate for their needs and provide tailored support. This service should be statutory and available across all local authorities. 

  1. Reform the National Referral Mechanism: decisions for children within the NRM should be made by local safeguarding partners. The government should commit to rolling out the successful pilot program nationwide and provide specialised training on child trafficking to all First Responders. 

  1. End the criminalisation of exploited children: recognise trafficked children as victims and prevent their criminalisation for actions resulting from exploitation. Provide specialised training on child trafficking and non-prosecution principles to police forces and the Crown Prosecution Service. 

  1. Ensure access to specialist services: trafficked children must have access to specialist advice and support tailored to their needs, including mental health services, as part of their care and pathway planning. 

  1. Support safe transitions to adulthood: turning 18 must not mean a drop-off in support for trafficked children. Services must be person-centred and adaptable, with particular attention to peer support and befriending services. 

  1. Provide access to justice: address the crisis in legal aid to ensure all children have access to high-quality legal advice. Remove barriers to prosecuting child trafficking offences and ensure child victims have access to redress and compensation. 

Patricia Durr, CEO of ECPAT UK said:

The new government has a pivotal opportunity to rectify past failings and make a lasting difference in the lives of trafficked children. We welcomed the Labour Party manifesto commitment to creating a new legal offence of child criminal exploitation and expect to see the plans announced in the Kings' Speech but we need a UK wide child exploitation strategy that recognises all forms of child exploitation, the interrelationship between them and the resources to give the practical manifestation to prevention, protection and support.

The government has a legal obligation under international conventions and domestic legislation to protect children from exploitation. The time to act is now. 

By adopting these priorities, we can create a safer, more supportive environment for every child, address this child protection crisis and respect children's rights to live free from exploitation."


ECPAT UK press contact: [email protected]and 020 7607 2136  

Notes to editors: 

  1. Full briefing can be found at ECPAT UK's Call to Action to Combat Child Trafficking
  2. Recent report from the University of Nottingham and ECPAT UK on prevention and identification can be found here.
  3. Recent briefing on children in Home Office hotels and remaining challenges can be found at Care for Every Child: Unaccompanied children accommodated by the Home Office
  4. Recent briefing on transition to adulthood can be found at briefing can be found atBreaking Barriers: Supporting young victims of human trafficking transitioning to adulthood