ECPAT UK response: Sir Mo Farah shares his experience of child trafficking and exploitation

Child trafficking is child abuse and a serious crime. Globally, it affects millions of children every year.1 Last year in the UK, 5,468 potential child victims of trafficking and exploitation were identified through the National Referral Mechanism – the highest ever number counted to date, and a 10% increase on 2020.2  Children are trafficked to the UK from elsewhere in the world, in migration, and within the UK. Any child can be abused in this way, including British nationals

Sir Mo Farah’s case highlights how children who are separated from their families and seeking safety can be vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and their long-lasting impacts. The burden of secrecy and shame that Sir Mo has had to endure, along with the trauma of the abuse, his bereavement and separation from his family, as well as being stripped of his identity, is immense. It also highlights how professional curiosity from people working with children (in this instance a teacher) can be critical in identifying child victims of trafficking, particularly those who are exploited for domestic servitude, which remains one of the most challenging forms of exploitation to identify.

Sir Mo was appropriately safeguarded from abuse once he was referred to his local authority, but many child victims of trafficking are not, and do not receive the care, support and protection to which they are entitled. Young people who are trafficked to the UK as children often face challenging immigration outcomes as adults, and many do not have access to adequate legal advice or support in order to regularise their immigration status properly. Sir Mo took a courageous risk to shine a light on this kind of abuse, but another child victim may have faced significantly adverse consequences and action from the Home Office through no fault of their own: in 2019-2020 only 2% of child victims of trafficking were granted the leave to remain to which they are entitled under international law.3

This is why ECPAT UK (along with organisations across the anti-trafficking and children’s sectors) continues to call on the Home Office to provide child victims with the safety and support they need, and the stable futures they have a right to expect.

N, young victim of trafficking and exploitation and member of ECPAT UK’s Youth Advisory Group, said: “I am very touched and happy at the same time. What he did is amazing. I watched trafficking news on the TV for the first time and I felt good that it is being now recognised by the government.

“One thing I can say to Mo Farah is a massive thank you for speaking out and letting people know that trafficking is a big deal. What he did could save many people’s lives. Many young people will look up to him and feel more confident to speak out.

“Some young people don't know that they are being trafficked and some people think what they are doing to young people is normal. This report will open their eyes more to understand their rights as young people and feel confident to contact either the police or social services when living in these situations. Thank you so much Mo Farah for sharing your experience.”

Patricia Durr, CEO of ECPAT UK, said: “Our hearts go out to Sir Mo Farah and his family, and we thank him for his courage and strength in sharing his experience of child trafficking. It is hugely important and empowering for young victims of trafficking and exploitation in the UK and across the world to know that they are not alone. It is also important for raising awareness and understanding about the reality of this crime against children and the risks separated and unaccompanied children face. ECPAT UK stands with Sir Mo, and with all victims of child trafficking.

“Over the last 20 years the UK has been improving its response to trafficking and modern slavery but the Nationality and Borders Act, which is currently coming into force, significantly narrows the opportunity for identifying child victims of trafficking, particularly for unaccompanied children. I hope that Sir Mo’s generosity will reignite our determination to tackle trafficking and to protect children. The UK Government should be looking to increase opportunities for identifying child victims, provide more training for frontline staff, ensure that child victims are granted leave to remain in line with their best interests, and build a culture of belief, understanding and trust so that children can feel supported and confident that they will be protected and cared for in the UK – no matter who they are, where they are from or how they got here.”


Notes to Editors

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

More information about Sir Mo Farah’s story is available here.


Child trafficking in the UK: latest data


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.