Children will benefit from improved child exploitation laws, following ECPAT UK’s campaign to make the Modern Slavery Bill more effective to prosecute child abusers.

The House of Lords yesterday agreed to strengthen the criminal offence of slavery, servitude, forced/compulsory labour in the Modern Slavery Bill, making a commitment to improve guidance on cases involving children and guaranteeing that all forms of exploitation, including sexual exploitation and forced criminality, are covered by the new offence.

This follows an earlier concession by Government in which MPs amended the offence to ensure that authorities give regard to the vulnerability of child victims and to clarify that 'alleged' consent to exploitation is not used against a victim, as children in particular are groomed into being exploited and cannot consent to these abuses.

The changes to the offences by the Government represent another significant step in a long-fought campaign by ECPAT UK to strengthen the child exploitation laws in England and Wales. 

In December 2013, when the draft Modern Slavery Bill was published, ECPAT UK launched one of the biggest-ever UK campaigns to improve protection of child victims of trafficking. Since then, nearly 80,000 people have supported this call, which included four key demands to protect children, including improving laws to prosecute child traffickers, creating an independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, introducing legal advocates for child victims and ending the criminalisation of child victims of trafficking who are forced to commit crimes by their abusers.

In the first of two days of important debates in the House of Lords, campaigners worked with Government to secure other significant improvements on these issues, including:

  • The increased remit of the new Anti-Slavery Commissioner to include protection of victims, as well as increased independence of the role, such as control over his/her budget and the ability to appoint his/her own staff
  • A commitment that guidance for a statutory defence of trafficking will not require compulsion to be proven for child victims

Tomorrow, in the second day of Report Stage, debate will focus on child trafficking advocates, which has been ECPAT UK’s longest running campaign to date, spanning over nearly a decade. ECPAT UK is asking Peers to support calls for legal powers for independent child trafficking advocates so that they can effectively advocate for children’s rights and can instruct legal representatives.

“The Modern Slavery Bill is an historic opportunity to improve the law and protection of children who are enslaved, trafficked and exploited,” said Chloe Setter, Head of Advocacy, Policy & Campaigns (Child Trafficking).

“We are very pleased that Parliament recognises the need to afford special protections to children, who are the most vulnerable victims of these heinous crimes. We have fought hard to improve the legislation so that police, prosecutors and others are better able to identify and protect victims, as well as prosecute the adults that seek to benefit from abuse of children.

“Whilst there is still much more to do, the Government has listened to our concerns and the public campaign. ECPAT UK welcomes this much-needed step towards the establishment of a system that places the best interests of vulnerable and exploited children at its centre.”