The House of Lords has today passed an amendment in the Immigration Bill that marks a hugely significant step in ECPAT UK’s campaign to secure a system of independent, legal guardianship for trafficked children.

ECPAT UK, along with other experts, has long argued that such a statutory system would curb the high risk to trafficked children of re-trafficking and abuse, whilst providing a trusted person who has legal responsibility for the child and can act in their best interests, as a parent would.

The amendment passed by a vote of 282 to 184. ECPAT UK commends Baroness Butler-Sloss, Lord McColl of Dulwich, Lord Carlile of Berriew and Baroness Royall of Blaisdon for tabling the amendment on what is a hugely important step towards achieving a system of guardianship for trafficked children – the success of the amendment sets the stage for a further vote on guardianship in the House of Commons before potential inclusion in the Immigration Bill.

For seven years, ECPAT UK has argued that a system of legal guardianship, where each child victim of trafficking would be assigned an independent adult with the expertise and legal powers to advocate on their behalf and ensure decisions are made in their best interests, would help to redress these injustices in accordance with the fundamental rights of all children. 

Each year, hundreds of child victims of trafficking in the UK are subjected to the worst kinds of abuse imaginable – including forced labour, domestic servitude and sexual exploitation. Numerous studies have shown that 60% of these exploited children go missing from care, with a majority of those re-trafficked and never heard from again.

Chloe Setter, Head of Advocacy, Policy & Campaigns (Child Trafficking), ECPAT UK, said: “Legal guardianship for trafficked children is essential to protect what are some of the most vulnerable children imaginable. It is a sad indictment of our society that two-thirds of trafficked children go missing from care, whilst many are denied the support that they need because they are not identified early or because they are treated as criminals or immigrants ahead of their needs as children who have been exploited by ruthless criminals.

“In 2011, ECPAT UK handed in a petition that had more than 735,000 signatures from the public supporting legal guardianship for trafficked children. Since then hundreds of children have gone missing and never found, forced back into a life of enslavement and abuse. We are delighted that Parliament is recognising the urgency to give trafficked children the protection they require and put in statute a system of independent, legal guardianship.”    

In addition, more than 65,000 members of the public have supported the call for a legal system of guardianship as a part of a recent ECPAT UK and Walk Free campaign on the new Modern Slavery Bill, pushing for better child protection provisions in this landmark legislation.

The amendment in the Immigration Bill has also received backing from charities such as Barnardo’s, Asylum Aid, CARE, Children’s Rights Alliance England, Stop the Traffik, Unicef UK and The Children’s Society.