Home Office data published today reveals that in 2019-2020, only 2% (17 out of 754) of children who were exploited and trafficked to the UK were granted the leave to remain to which they are entitled under international law. In a new briefing from child rights organisation ECPAT UK, figures provided via a Freedom of Information request highlight that although the UK is governed by international human rights treaties which require child victims of modern slavery to be granted leave to remain in their best interests, most child victims of trafficking in the UK are denied it.

‘When you have the right to remain in the UK you're not scared anymore. You can decide what you want to do and pursue your future'. – Fatima, 19

  • Data obtained from the Home Office shows that in 2019 and 2020, only 2% (17 out of 754) of child victims of modern slavery in the UK were granted Discretionary Leave to Remain, in contravention of international law
  • Numbers identified via an FOI request from children’s rights organisation ECPAT UK highlight that children who are exploited and trafficked to the UK are being denied their right to stay, recover from their abuse and build stable futures, as intended by international human rights treaties and as set out in the Home Office’s own policy
  • The Nationality and Borders Bill, currently before Parliament, reforms modern slavery laws but contains no protections or provisions for children and will increase the risk of child exploitation
  • The Government denies the need for any protection for children or that children’s right to remain needs to be on the face of the Bill, arguing instead that children are best protected on a case-by-case basis. Today’s data demonstrates that most child victims of modern slavery are already denied the protections and security of leave to remain in the UK in their best interests
  • ECPAT UK is calling for Clause 64 of the Nationality and Borders Bill to incorporate specific entitlements for children in line with the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (ECAT) and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)

Part 5 of the Nationality and Borders Bill, which addresses modern slavery, contains widescale reform of the current system which will reduce identification and protection of all victims including British nationals, and does not include any protections or provisions for children. This is especially concerning in light of the fact that more children than ever were identified as potential victims of trafficking in 2021.  In debates on Part 5 of the Bill to date, the Government has stated that child victims of trafficking do not need any specific provisions, and that child rights are better protected on a case-by-case basis, but Home Office data published today demonstrates that very few of the child victims who are entitled to leave to remain according to their best interests are granted that right.

Child victims of trafficking have rights to protection under the UNCRC and ECAT to ensure they can recover from exploitation and transition to adulthood in safety and stability. Article 14 of ECAT sets out how member states should issue renewable residence permits to victims when required, such as due to ongoing cooperation with law enforcement, but for child victims ECAT is clear that decisions should only be taken in their best interests.

Amendments have been tabled cross-party at every stage of the Bill’s progress to set out this legal standard for children on the face of the Bill. The Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner has expressed significant concern about the Bill’s lack of clarity around immigration status for child victims, and UN human rights experts said: ‘We are concerned that there is no recognition of the primacy of the rights of the child, or of the State’s obligation to ensure the protection of migrant child victims of trafficking and contemporary forms of slavery, including through the implementation of best interests assessments and determination procedures in migration related decisions.’

There are widespread calls for Part 5 of the Bill to be removed because it conflates responses to modern slavery and trafficking with immigration, will reduce identification and protection of all victims of trafficking including British nationals and will create a damaging two-tier discriminatory system for responses to modern slavery based on immigration status.

Patricia Durr, CEO of ECPAT UK, said: "Year on year, the Government is failing child victims of modern slavery, and the Nationality and Borders Bill is set to make things worse – it completely ignores the rights and needs of children, constituting a significant set-back to modern slavery legislation and child protection. The Bill conflates immigration functions with the government's obligations to identify and protect victims, containing only one immigration provision for victims of modern slavery which is even more restrictive. There is an opportunity to change this, and to bring children's entitlement into legislation by stipulating immigration leave specific to child victims in the Bill – instead the Government insists they will uphold children’s best interests by judging their needs on a case-by-case basis. This is cold comfort. How can we trust that children and young people will be protected when the numbers published today show that children who are trafficked to this country are too often left in immigration limbo following identification, preventing their recovery and access to support and opportunities?”

Dame Sara Thornton, UK Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, said: “Through my engagement on the Nationality and Borders Bill, I have repeatedly raised the lack of detail on provisions for child victims of modern slavery and human trafficking. In relation to Clause 64 in particular, I have real concerns that the requirement to consider the best interests of a child when making decisions about immigration leave appears to have been ignored. The government has given assurance that this will be addressed on a case-by-case basis however this is not sufficient. The bill provides an opportunity to prioritise children’s rights and protections through primary legislation – we must take it.”



Notes to Editors

  1. The data shows 4,064 potential victims were exploited as children in just the first three quarters, an over 10% increase on the previous year in the same quarters.
  2. The Nationality and Borders Bill is due to have Report Stage in the House of Lords on 28th February, 2nd March and 8th March

Briefing - Nationality and Borders Bill: immigration outcomes for child victims of trafficking


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.

Case studies

Diêp was born in a rural village in Việt Nam. She had a difficult home life growing up following the death of the mother, caring for her father who became abusive when drinking. When she was 14, a man arrived to speak to her father and she was told she would be leaving the village for a job in the UK so she could send money home. Diêp survived a journey which took almost a year, she was made to work in a factory in Russia for several months, was sexually assaulted and in the last few months in Europe, she was made to  clean different houses all day. Once she arrived in the UK, she was taken to a house and sexually exploited. She was finally identified as a child victim of trafficking a month before turning 16. Diêp was placed in care, started going to college and learning English. She was supported to claim asylum as she was terrified of the gangs finding her if she went back home. As an extremely talented artist, she was doing very well in her courses and aspired to go on to University for her degree. He asylum claim was refused, and she spent months on end locked up in her room waiting for news about her appeal. Her mental health significantly declined; she lost all hope for the future. Diêp is 23 years old now, and she’s still in limbo, never able to pursue her dreams.   


Kejsi was born in Albania. He grew up in a household of domestic abuse perpetrated by his father. At the age of 14 Kejsi left home to work in the UK on a job arranged by friends of his father to repay his dad’s gambling debt. He arrived as an unaccompanied child, was referred to children’s services in a London Borough and was told to claim asylum. His social workers were concerned about Kejsi, as he would often go missing from his placement for full days. They suspected he was being exploited but Kejsi did not disclose to them the abuse he had faced growing up nor about the job that had been arranged for him. He was referred to the NRM and his social workers arranged strategy meetings with the other safeguarding partners to protect Kejsi from harm. Kejsi disclosed to an NGO who were supporting him that he was scared because the ‘job’ was to transport and distribute class A drugs. The NGO staff worked with Kejsi and his social workers to safeguard him and he became very settled into school and other extracurricular activities organised by the charity. Kejsi’s was happy but he felt unsettled as the years passed and he did not receive a decision for his asylum claim or the NRM. He had turned 17 and was attending college when he received a positive NRM and an asylum refusal. He was devastated and terrified about was this meant. The men who were exploiting Kejsi to sell drugs had warned him that this would happen and he would be detained and removed back to Albania. To Kejsi they appeared to be right, so he got back in touch with them to go underground and ‘work’ to pay off his father’s debts rather than face being returned to the violence he faced at home. Kejsi went missing shortly after, his social workers are convinced he has been re-trafficked and regret he was not granted leave to remain as a victim of modern slavery despite his asylum claim, as it would have been in his best interest to remain settled in his foster placement and continue thriving at college.