• New statistics released by the Home Office last week show that more children than ever were identified as potential victims of modern slavery in 2021
  • Tomorrow, the House of Lords will debate Part 5 of the Nationality and Borders Bill, which focuses on modern slavery. Part 5 proposals will make it more likely that child victims will go unidentified and unprotected, will be penalised for their own exploitation and will be at further risk from criminals who seek to abuse and exploit
  • These new modern slavery figures come just as the EU predicts Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could displace as many as seven million Ukrainians internally and create four million refugees, significantly increasing the risk of trafficking and exploitation for all people escaping conflict but especially children

The Home Office last week released official statistics showing more children than ever before were identified as potential victims of trafficking in 2021.

The statistics from the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) – the UK’s official system for identifying victims of trafficking and modern slavery – show that 5,468 potential victims were exploited as children in 2021, which is more than a 10% increase on the previous year (4,946).

These figures come ahead of tomorrow’s Nationality and Borders Bill debate in the House of Lords, during which peers will scrutinise the modern slavery-focused Part 5 of the Bill. Organisations and experts across the anti-slavery sector agree that proposals included in the Bill will mean more exploitation and abuse, and will affect victims of all ages, both foreign and UK nationals. Almost half of all victims of modern slavery are children but there are no protections for children on the face of the Bill.

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine reaches its twelfth day, the EU has predicted that the conflict is likely to displace seven million Ukrainians internally and drive a further four million out of the country as refugees. Many of these people will be children, and all will be at greater risk for trafficking, exploitation and abuse as a direct result of displacement caused by the conflict. ECPAT UK is concerned that now is not the time to deny more people sanctuary and reduce identification and protection for child victims, as proposed in the Bill.

Tuesday’s debate in the House of Lords will include consideration of Amendment 70ZA, tabled last week by Lord Coaker, which would exempt victims of modern slavery, exploitation or trafficking from many of the provisions in Part 5 of the Bill if they were under 18 when they became a victim. It would also ensure the best interests of children in all decisions about them including in deciding leave to remain.

There is widespread condemnation of plans in the Bill to reform asylum and immigration legislation, and to renege on the UK’s commitment to the Refugee Convention. With numerous votes against the government so far at report stage, peers have made their disagreement clear. They have also told the government that proposals on modern slavery have no place in an immigration Bill, and have called for these to be removed.

The Home Office data published last week shows that as has been the case since the final quarter of 2019, when the government began categorising criminal exploitation as a distinct exploitation type, criminal exploitation was the most prevalent exploitation type among children, with 49% (2,689) of potential child victims identified.

Across all exploitation types, 79% of children identified as potential victims were boys (as it was last year). Increased understanding of child criminal exploitation is likely to be a significant driver of the higher number of UK national boys identified, as professionals and institutions begin to recognise young boys recruited into drug supply and other criminal activity as victims rather than treating them as offenders.

In line with previous years, the vast majority of all child referrals to the NRM were of UK nationals accounting for 54% (2,981) of child referrals. The second most referred nationality for children was Vietnamese at 269 followed by Albanian children at 244.  

Patricia Durr, CEO of ECPAT UK, said: “Last week we learned that more potential child victims of modern slavery than ever before were identified last year in the UK, and that millions of Ukrainian children will likely be displaced and made vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation as a result of Russia’s invasion last week. Now is not the time to deny more people sanctuary and reduce identification and protection for victims of modern slavery, as proposed in the Nationality and Borders Bill. Child victims should be safeguarded and protected first and foremost, and all that we do must be in their best interests. The government says it agrees. It should accept amendments to the Bill to prove it.”



Notes to Editors

Pandora Haydon, Communications and Campaigns Manager, ECPAT UK, [email protected],  07402 113 985


ECPAT UK (Every Child Protected Against Trafficking UK) is a leading children’s rights charity, campaigning and advocating for the rights of children to be protected from all forms of exploitation. We work directly with young victims of trafficking and their voices and experiences informs all our work. ECPAT UK is part of the ECPAT International network, which is present in 103 countries, working to end the sexual abuse and exploitation of children.