Saturday, 20th March 2021

Statement from ECPAT UK's CEO, Patricia Durr

ECPAT UK is alarmed at today’s news from the Home Office claiming there is widescale abuse of the National Referral Mechanism and announcing an overhaul of the Modern Slavery Act alongside the announcement of immigration reforms.

While we are waiting to see details of the proposals this week and what it may mean for survivors of child trafficking and exploitation, we are very concerned about inaccuracies in the reporting of today’s statement.

Of the 10,613 referrals in 2020, 47% are reported as having been exploited as children, the majority of whom had been criminally exploited. This is a child protection crisis and rather than weaken safeguards, we want to see reform that puts children’s protection first.

The current system is not appropriate for child victims and we have long argued for reform to better identify and protect them. We remain concerned that child victims who committed crimes because of their exploitation continue to face time in Youth Offending Institutes and then face immigration detention and removal if they are subject to immigration control. 

We strongly object to reporting that seems to conflate people seeking asylum with offenders.

As a child protection charity, we are alarmed at the suggestion that safeguards to protect victims include protections for child rapists and those who threaten national security: sexual and terrorism offences are explicitly excluded from any modern slavery defence. As far as we are aware, there is no data on any misuse of the defence, which provides a valuable, if too limited, safety net for children who have been trafficked.

Victims need more protection, support and care, not increased hostility. The confusing messages about criminal law and immigration law are not helpful and will impact many of the young victims we work with who are caught up in both, including young people like Femi, who was born in the United Kingdom to undocumented parents.

Femi was taken into care and struggled at school due to a learning disability. During his final year of primary school, he was recruited into ‘county lines’ exploitation by adults selling drugs. For years he was horrifically abused by his exploiters. He was arrested and convicted of various offences committed because of his exploitation.

Shortly before his release, Femi was served with removal directions to Nigeria, a country he has never been to. He had hoped to enrol in film school, but instead was sent to immigration detention where he was finally identified as a potential victim of modern slavery.

We await the details of the Home Office’s proposals, but it should concern all of us if under the proposals, young people like Femi are to be denied support as a victim and instead seen as ‘dangerous criminals’ because of an 18 month sentence for drug offences committed because of his exploitation and victimisation.


Press contact

Sinead Geoghegan, Communications and Media Manager, ECPAT UK, [email protected] 07402 113 985