Tuesday, 10th May 2022

Yesterday’s Queen’s Speech confirmed that in the new parliamentary session, there will be significant reform affecting the rights of children and young people.

On the heels of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, the government has announced more modern slavery legislation. It has affirmed too that the Online Safety Bill is carried over from the last parliamentary session. Also announced was a new Bill of Rights.

Given how damaging the measures in the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 are for victims, we welcome the proposed focus of the Modern Slavery Bill to “strengthen the protection and support for victims of human trafficking and modern slavery and increase the accountability of companies and other organisations to drive out modern slavery from their supply chains.”

Three years on from the independent review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, we hope that the proposed Bill will realise many of its recommendations and go further in setting out particular protections for child victims – as the Nationality and Borders Act disregards. In particular, we are looking to the Bill to:

  • Enshrine the best interests of the child as the primary consideration in all decisions
  • Provide care, support and specialist services for all child victims
  • Include specific protections for child victims from going missing, re-trafficking and further harm
  • Provide access to specialist legal advice and an Independent Legal Guardian for all unaccompanied and trafficked children
  • Strengthen compensation and reparation for child victims.

We will be continuing to hold the government to account for protecting child victims and those at risk of exploitation as we did recently with 25 other organisations in writing to the Secretaries of State. We want to see meaningful engagement of children and young people who will be affected by the proposals and a child impact assessment – we are still waiting for one on the Nationality and Borders Act.

Online safety for children

The Queen’s speech also confirmed that the Online Safety Bill, designed to ensure that internet users, especially children, are protected online, is to be carried over into this parliamentary session.

We continue to welcome that the UK will be among the first to legislate for better protections online and to hold services accountable for online sexual exploitation of children occurring on their platforms. We want the government to ensure that children outside the UK are also afforded protections and to bring the abuse of children abroad by UK offenders within scope of the Online Safety Bill, making it explicit that sanctions and responsibilities apply equally in respect of children domiciled in foreign jurisdictions. This would give momentum to the pressing need to address the challenges associated with the increase in livestreaming. Livestreamed abuse thrives because of the differences in legislation and enforcement across national borders.

ECPAT UK has long monitored UK national offenders who travel abroad to offend against children or use online platforms to abuse children abroad with impunity. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act has strengthened the use of foreign travel restriction orders via the establishment and maintenance of a list of countries where children are considered to be at high risk of sexual abuse and exploitation by UK offenders. However, the threat assessments that will be used to decide whether or not an order should be made may be based only on what is known about contact offending in the offline world.

Patricia Durr, CEO of ECPAT UK, said: At time when we should be strengthening children's rights and protections, the government’s proposals for a Bill of Rights will significantly weaken them, as well as the ability to hold the government and public bodies to account when children’s rights are breached. This is in addition to the erosion of protection and care for child victims of trafficking and those most at risk of exploitation in the Nationality and Borders Act 2022. It paints a very concerning picture.

“The government has an opportunity in the announced modern slavery legislation to make clear its stated intention that all decisions will be made in children’s best interests; and to increase protection, care and access to justice for child victims. Along with increasing protections for children in the Online Safety Bill, it would go a long way to re-establishing the UK as a leader in child protection, serious about ending abuse and exploitation of all children.”


Notes to Editors

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