Child victims of trafficking in England and Wales are set to benefit from ‘Child Trafficking Advocates’ with legal powers following ECPAT UK’s high-profile campaign to ensure new anti-slavery legislation adequately protects children and young people.

In a landmark step, members of the House of Lords today voted in favour of amendments to ensure advocates have the tools and independence to be effective in advocating for trafficked children’s rights.

Following sustained pressure over the past year from ECPAT UK and other children’s organisations, including 80,000 signatures to ECPAT’s Modern Slavery Bill campaign, the Government last week shifted its position and announced it would amend its legislation. It pledged to ensure advocates have a legal footing to enable them to work effectively alongside statutory services and to enable them to instruct lawyers on behalf of children.

The Modern Slavery Bill, which is due to be passed before the general election in May, now contains an ‘enabling mechanism’ that compels Government to introduce regulations on Child Trafficking Advocates within nine months of the Bill being given Royal Assent.

For nearly a decade ECPAT UK has led the campaign for legal guardianship for trafficked children, which is a requirement in the EU Directive on Trafficking and an obligation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. In 2011, we secured the signatures of 735,889 people supporting our call for legal guardianship for trafficked children.

The new legal advocates will be independent and will be someone who can ensure each trafficked child receives the educational, medical, practical and legal support they need to access services and rebuild their lives. The Child Trafficking Advocate will have the powers to work effectively with existing services and to challenge bad practice. Under the enabling mechanism, advocates will be assigned to all trafficked children, including British victims.

“The importance of this commitment to child victims of trafficking cannot be understated,” said Chloe Setter, Head of Advocacy, Policy & Campaigns (Child Trafficking), ECPAT UK.

“Trafficked children are desperately vulnerable, often having suffered years of abuse and exploitation. Having someone independent ‘by their side and on their side’ is so crucial. This will help children exercise their rights and ensure there is adequate protection to keep them safe. Simply, it will be someone who cares what happens to the child – as a parent should – someone to explain the complex systems, someone to speak up when there is injustice or bad practice – someone to trust who won’t let the child down.

“Having fought tirelessly for this change in the UK, ECPAT UK is delighted to welcome the Government’s commitment to child victims of trafficking and exploitation. We urge them to ensure this provision in legislation is implemented in full, as quickly as possible.”

A trial of Child Trafficking Advocates is currently under way in 23 local authority areas in England.

The announcement follows ECPAT UK’s successful campaign in Northern Ireland, which led to the introduction of legal guardianship for trafficked and separated children in January 2015.

Scotland has recently published its draft legislation on human trafficking. ECPAT UK will campaign for legal guardians here also to ensure a consistent response to trafficked children across the UK.

Today's success follows on from commitments from Government on Monday to improve the Modern Slavery Bill to increase prosecutions of child abusers.