The Joint Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill, appointed to report to Parliament on the proposed legislation, has backed all four of ECPAT UK’s campaign calls to strengthen new legislation in the fight against child trafficking.

ECPAT UK provided both written and oral evidence to the Joint Committee explaining why child victims of trafficking require improved protection and support based on our many years of experience of working with victims who have been failed, criminalised or faced a ‘culture of disbelief’ when encountering public authorities, despite the horrific abuse they have suffered.

It was this experience that led us to launch the Modern Slavery Bill campaign in December with Walk Free, which has attracted signatures from nearly 70,000 people, helping to put pressure on the Home Secretary to ensure her Modern Slavery Bill takes into account the needs and vulnerability of trafficked children by introducing four key measures:

  • Measures to protect and assist all victims, including the creation of a system of legal guardianship to provide vulnerable children with an independent professional to fight for their rights

  • The establishment of an independent Anti-Trafficking Commissioner to monitor and improve the UK’s response to human trafficking

  • The creation of a specific crime of child trafficking and exploitation to reflect the severity of this abuse of children and convict more offenders

  • Protection for victims so they are not imprisoned for crimes they were forced to commit by their traffickers

In its report, the Joint Committee cited evidence from ECPAT UK and recommended that the Modern Slavery Bill provides in statute for the equivalent of a system of guardianship for trafficked children due to their ‘extreme vulnerability’. It echoed ECPAT UK’s concerns that a recently announced trial of non-statutory advocates did not go far enough and that such a scheme should be ‘underpinned by statute providing a legal basis for the advocate to represent the child’.

The report also stated that there should be a statutory defence of being a victim of modern slavery, in line with our call to stop children being prosecuted for crimes they have been forced to commit. Only last year three trafficked Vietnamese children who had been convicted of cannabis cultivation finally had their convictions quashed.

The Committee recommended that the Anti-Slavery Commissioner role be strengthened and expressed concerns about its independence, a provision that ECPAT UK has insisted is integral to the success of the role. In addition, the remit of the Commissioner should include victim protection, as recommended by ECPAT UK.

ECPAT UK has also argued for a new offence in law of child trafficking/exploitation – a view that is strongly shared by the Joint Committee. This reflects our concerns about the lack of prosecutions of child traffickers and the gaps in current legislation. The Committee also recommended a new offence be included in any legislation to tackle modern slavery and trafficking.

Chloe Setter, Head of Advocacy, Policy & Campaigns (Child Trafficking), ECPAT UK, said:

“The Joint Committee has listened to the campaign calls of ECPAT UK and clearly seen that trafficked children in the UK need more protection and support than the Draft Modern Slavery Bill affords. It is vital that the Home Secretary acts upon the expert recommendations of the Committee and strengthens her proposed legislation so that it helps to eradicate this horrific abuse of children and gives the protection that these vulnerable young people so urgently need.”

In addition, the Committee made recommendations on other key areas that ECPAT UK has called for, including a ‘presumption of age’ clause so that children who cannot prove their age are treated as children whilst their age is determined, extended special measures for victims giving evidence in criminal trials against traffickers and improved access to compensation for victims.

The system of identification of child victims, the National Referral Mechanism, was due a ‘major reform’ and should not be conflated with the immigration process, according to the Joint Committee, which echoes the long-standing calls of the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group, of which ECPAT UK is a founding member.

ECPAT UK is encouraging those who have not signed the petition to lend their support by signing the petition to the Home Secretary to ensure she listens to the campaign and to the recommendations of the Joint Committee when publishing the final legislation.

Sign the petition here

Read the full report here