Monday, 3rd June 2019

An independent review of the Modern Slavery Act has made important calls for changes to the legislation. However despite calls from leading charities including ECPAT UK and thousands of supporters to ensure all trafficked and unaccompanied children are protected, the review failed to include supporting unaccompanied children in the scope of its recommendations.

The independent review was commissioned by the government to scrutinise specific elements of the Modern Slavery Act. A series of reports have been published by the review on different aspects of this legislation, culminating in a final report published in May 2019.

In terms of children’s rights, the most relevant aspect of the review relates to the Independent Child Trafficking Advocates (ICTA) service. Established in 2015 under the new Modern Slavery Act following years of campaigning from ECPAT UK, the service supports children identified as potential victims of trafficking by providing an advocate to represent their best interests. The scheme has been a positive step forward but is currently very limited and not available across the country.

The review makes some important recommendations, including to fully roll out the service across England and Wales as soon as possible, to extend the service for young people up to 21 or 25 years of age and to continue one-to-one support for children with parental responsibility on a case-by-case basis. It also calls for the Act to be amended to reflect more clearly that a child is not able to consent to any element of their trafficking or slavery, which would bring the legislation more in line with international standards. The review also helpfully calls for greater independence of the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner. 

However, ECPAT UK is calling for a more comprehensive guardianship scheme to be provided to all trafficked and unaccompanied children. Many unaccompanied children are victims of exploitation. Having a trusted guardian means they may feel able to disclose that they’ve been trafficked and access specialist support that helps them recover and keeps them safe from further harm. Almost 29,000 people have taken action online and over 40 organisations in the sector called on the Home Secretary to make this change. Yet this consideration was deemed ‘out of scope’ of the review, despite being recognised internationally, and already in place in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Catherine Baker, Senior Campaigns and Parliamentary Officer at ECPAT UK, said:

“While there are positive recommendations emerging from this review that would improve the legislation for children, it is disappointing that the issue of independent guardianship has been so narrowly viewed. Those who work directly with unaccompanied children know that providing them with a guardian would ensure that trafficking is properly identified as well as prevented from taking place in the future.

The review should be seen as a small step towards improving the UK’s response to child trafficking and modern slavery. We now need much deeper and more extensive changes in policy, particularly ones that address the significant gaps in support provision and remove barriers in immigration policy that prevent children recovering and living stable lives.”

We now urge the Home Secretary to accept these recommendations and to listen to our calls for more extensive measures to be implemented.

Please use your voice to take action by raising this with the Home Secretary.


Press contact

Sinead Geoghegan, Communications and Media Manager, ECPAT UK, [email protected], 0207 607 2136