Thursday 23rd December 2021

The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton, and ECPAT UK have today launched Child trafficking in the UK 2021: a snapshot.

Child trafficking remains a significant and growing problem in the UK with 4,646 children referred into the National Referral Mechanism in 2020/21 accounting for 43.5% of all potential victims identified. Despite Covid-19 and the restrictions during periods of lockdown exploitation of children continues to rise with the vast majority of children referred for criminal exploitation and a substantial proliferation of online exploitation.

The report provides an outline of child trafficking between October 2020 and October 2021, including the latest data, policy developments, examples of promising practice and challenges faced by practitioners. It concludes with a series of 10 recommendations aimed at a range of stakeholders:

 Recommendation 1 for prosecuting bodies and justice departments - To improve data recording and publication on prosecutions and convictions relating specifically to child-trafficking.

 Recommendation 2 for police and prosecutors – To ensure that officers and staff are equipped to identify potential child victims of modern slavery at the earliest opportunity and can investigate effectively working together to safeguard children and protect victims in line with their duties.

 Recommendation 3 for policy makers and those involved in safeguarding children - To encourage frontline organisations to adopt the Child Trafficking Training Standards Framework and ensure that any nationally commissioned training on child trafficking reflects these standards.

 Recommendation 4 for the Department for Education - To ensure a multi-agency local safeguarding approach to child victims of trafficking, and that updates to the Working Together to Safeguard Children Statutory Guidance reflect the need for protection and support after consultation with children’s rights organisations.

 Recommendation 5 for the Home Office - To ensure that children are excluded from the provisions regarding modern slavery in the Nationality and Borders Bill in line with the Government’s duty to ensure the child's best interest as a primary consideration.

 Recommendation 6 for the Home Office - To commence full national roll-out of the Independent Child Trafficking Guardian service across England and Wales as soon as possible, and to consider the introduction of an inspection regime of the service by a regulatory body. 

 Recommendation 7 for the Home Office - To build on the devolved NRM decision making pilots and subject to a positive evaluation, commence UK wide rollout as soon as possible.

 Recommendation 8 for the Department for Education - In recognition of well evidenced links between unregulated accommodation and exploitation, cease the use of unregulated accommodation for children.

 Recommendation 9 for researchers and for the Home Office - To encourage research which embeds the views and experiences of all child victims of modern slavery, and to support efforts to collate and publish more data on the demographics of and outcomes for those affected by trafficking.

 Recommendation 10 for policy makers and those involved in safeguarding children - To consider opportunities for the more active participation of children in NRM decision making, as well as within policy development.

 Read Child trafficking in the UK 2021: a snapshot

 Dame Sara Thornton, Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, said:

“One of the strategic priorities as outlined in my Strategic Plan 2019-2021 includes improving victim care and support. Within this, I specifically highlight the need to improve the response to child victims of trafficking.

“Since the publication of the ECPAT UK 2020 snapshot report there have been a number of encouraging policy developments in child trafficking.  In particular, the pilot in ten local authority areas where National Referral Mechanism decisions for children have been devolved and continued rollout of the Independent Child Trafficking Guardian service are welcome. Elsewhere, areas of concern have developed particularly in relation to the New Plan for Immigration and subsequent Nationality and Borders Bill.

"This report provided a welcome opportunity to work in partnership with ECPAT UK again and it has been a collaborative effort at each stage. Together, we have identified ten practical recommendations to direct efforts, and I look forward to working alongside ECPAT UK to encourage the implementation of these recommendations.”

Patricia Durr, Chief Executive Officer of ECPAT UK, said:

“ECPAT UK has been providing a periodic overview of child trafficking in the UK since 2010. We are delighted this year to produce our snapshot report jointly with the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, demonstrating a real commitment to children at risk of exploitation and child trafficking survivors. 

"The report highlights the need for more data and information about what is happening to children across the range of systems they must navigate including children’s social care, criminal justice and immigration.

"The report also highlights progress in policy and practice over the year but with rising numbers of children affected and the ongoing impact of Covid19, barriers to their identification and protection increasing and exacerbated by new measures in the Nationality and Borders Bill. We urge action and the recommendations in this report are a good start.

"Child trafficking is child abuse and a violation of children’s rights and it requires a safeguarding response that treats children as children first, prioritises their protection and affords them the care and support they need and are entitled to.”


Notes to editors

  • Part 4 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 created the role of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner. The Commissioner has a UK-wide remit to encourage good practice in the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of slavery and human trafficking offences and the identification of victims.
  • The Commissioner is given an annual budget with which to appoint staff and carry out her duties. She is accountable through her strategic plan and annual reports, which the Secretary of State lays before Parliament, setting out the extent to which objectives and priorities are achieved. Her Strategic Plan 2019 – 2021 was launched in October 2019.
  • Dame Sara Thornton was appointed as the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner by the Secretary of State following consultation with the Scottish Ministers and the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland. She took up post at the beginning of May 2019 and her appointment is for three years.
  • Every Child Protected Against Trafficking (ECPAT UK) is a leading children's rights organisation working to protect children from trafficking and transnational exploitation. ECPAT UK supports children everywhere to uphold their rights and to live a life free from abuse and exploitation. 


  • For press/media enquiries to the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner's Office, please contact [email protected] and +44 (0)7765 444387
  • For general enquiries, please contact [email protected] and +44 (0)7836 545842
  • For press/media enquiries to ECPAT UK, please email [email protected]