ECPAT UK has welcomed the report from the Home Affairs Select Committee published today following its inquiry into human trafficking. The Committee calls on the government to stop prioritising immigration enforcement at the expense of victims of human trafficking. The report also raises specific concerns about the treatment of children, particularly the lack of trafficking specific support children receive following identification through the National Referral Mechanism (NRM). 

We agree with the report’s recommendation that the Home Office and other public authorities treat human trafficking primarily as a protection issue and the definition of human trafficking in the Modern Slavery Act 2015 be amended to remove the expectation that the exploitation has involved travel. 

The Committee concludes that the use of hotels for unaccompanied children seeking  asylum, which has resulted in hundreds of children going missing,  is ‘unacceptable’ and left them at risk of trafficking and exploitation reflectingthe judgement handed down on the 27 July 2023 after ECPAT UK brought a claim of judicial review against Kent County Council (CC) and the Home Office.  

The number of children gone missing from the hotels is highlighted and members demand an update on progress made to find them by the end of the year. A strong recommendation is made to ensure that every child who goes missing from home or care is considered a potential victim of trafficking, even if they are subsequently found safe. 

Members considered the roll out of the Independent Child Trafficking Guardians (ICTG) unacceptably slow, with only two thirds of local authorities in England and Wales currently covered. ECPAT UK also finds the decision to continue delaying this promise made to children eight years ago in the Modern Slavery Act 2015 outrageous, creating a post code lottery for children dependant of what area they are identified in 

The committee called on local and central government to address the current gap in support when child victims of trafficking turn 18 and transition from child to adult services. Citing evidence from ECPAT UK highlighting the sudden drop in support which can increase the risk of re-trafficking, it is recommended the Home Office amends its Modern Slavery statutory guidance to include a section on ‘turning 18’ as means to ensure that ageing out of the care system does not reduce support for recovery and prevention of re-trafficking. 

Children continue to be prosecuted for crimes committed as a result of exploitation, the report also found . It should not be incumbent on children to raise their own defence under Section 45 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 as the only means to secure protection from prosecution. ECPAT UK’s evidence to the committee also highlights how new provisions introduced by the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 and the Illegal Migration Act 2023 disqualify children from identification if convicted of offences with a custodial sentence. These provisions will lead to increase criminalisation of child victims and further penalties under immigration enforcement powers. 

Home Affairs Committee first report of the Human Trafficking Inquiry can be found here. 

Notes to editors:  

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

  • PreviousECPAT UK report from June 2022 highlighted these concerns of children going missing from Home Office hotels  

  • Written evidence submitted by ECPAT UK to the Home Affairs Committee Human Trafficking Inquiry  

  • Transcript of the oral evidence given by ECPAT UK’s Head of Policy, Advocacy and Research, Laura Durán