Tuesday, 27th March 2018

ECPAT UK is calling on the UK Government to do more to protect child victims of modern slavery after the latest official statistics showed a huge 66% rise in the number of children identified as potential victims during 2017. 

Data from the National Crime Agency (NCA) showed that 2,118 individuals - nearly half (41%) of all referrals into the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), the system for identifying victims of modern slavery, were individuals exploited as children.

Despite this, the NRM continues to provide no consistent, meaningful specialist support to young people, which is why in 2017 ECPAT UK launched a major campaign to reform the NRM for children and call on the Government to better protect vulnerable children. 

There was also a sharp rise in the number of UK national children identified, comprising 32% of the total number of all child victims identified. This has partly resulted from a rise in referrals of children exploited by ‘county lines’ gangs, where children are exploited to transport drugs from major UK cities to sell in small towns and rural areas.

Children from Vietnam and Albania also appear to be among those most commonly exploited, comprising 17% and 10% of total referrals respectively. ECPAT UK is currently involved in an international project exploring the vulnerabilities of victims from Vietnam.

Other findings from the NCA show that labour exploitation (which includes but is not broken down into those exploited for criminal purposes) represented nearly a half of all children identified as potential trafficking victims. Those who were sexually exploited comprised around a quarter.

Moreover, the number of boys identified continues to be higher than girls. In 2017, 62% of children identified as trafficking victims were male and 38% were female.

ECPAT UK has consistently raised problems around the way that the NRM data is recorded and presented, as well as the support provided to child victims. Data is not broken down into important categories of exploitation type, and statistics on the decisions made about whether children are officially recognised as victims and given positive decisions about their trafficking status is not currently published. The way in which the data has been presented has been varied over many years since the NRM was begun, making it incredibly difficult to accurately assess the real picture.

Catherine Baker, ECPAT UK's Policy Officer, said: “These statistics show that awareness of trafficking, in particular of children is increasing. However, we know that the true figures are likely to be much higher. Behind each statistic is a child who has been abused yet we have no information about the outcomes of children referred into the NRM.

“The rising number of children identified points to an urgent need for a greater focus on children, yet the NRM in its current form continues to fail these children; neither properly identifying them nor providing them with any meaningful support. The NRM for children is not fit for purpose.

“This is why ECPAT UK is urging the public to help campaign for a reformed, more transparent system which enables frontline professionals to assess the needs of children and provide them with long-term, specialist support.”

Stephen's case is an example of the failings of the NRM for children and the urgent need for reform.


Press contacts

Chloe Setter, Head of Advocacy, Policy & Campaigns, ECPAT UK: 07890 120834 [email protected]

Catherine Baker, Policy and Campaigns Officer, ECPAT UK: 020 7607 2136 [email protected]