The Nationality and Borders Act received Royal Assent this week after a hard-fought battle to increase rights and protections

As set out in our joint letter to government ministers, the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 will significantly impact children’s rights to protection and leave them at risk of dangerous journeys, trafficking and criminalisation.

There has been widespread opposition to the raft measures affecting the UK’s treatment of refugees in the Act which will fail to protect those in need of safety. It also makes extensive changes to the identification, protection and support of victims of trafficking and modern slavery, which are not immigration matters. As such, it is an attack on all those seeking refuge (from abuse, persecution, torture, exploitation or trafficking) and an attack on fundamental, hard-won human rights.

During the bill’s passage through parliament, ECPAT UK has worked with many other organisations to raise concerns about child victims of trafficking and unaccompanied children at risk of exploitation. Amendments to exempt children from the most harmful aspects of the legislation on modern slavery and age assessments and to ensure decision-making is based on children’s best interests had widespread and cross-party support which resulted in one of the very few government concessions. This means that children will not be penalised for missing deadlines on disclosing their trauma and in the new ‘trafficking notices’ that the Act creates.

Children will still be subject to the following new measures:

  • Section 57 introduces a new procedure for ‘slavery or trafficking information notices’ to be issued to potential victims subject to immigration control. The notices will be issued to seek further information needed to make trafficking determinations in the NRM. Victims must provide this information within a specified timeframe.
  • Section 59 allows the government to change (in guidance) the legal threshold for the first decisions victims of trafficking and modern slavery receive after being identified as potential victims. The government made their intentions to raise this threshold clear in the New Plan for Immigration.
  • Section 62 disqualifies from protection those who have served custodial sentences of over a year, as well as those prosecuted for particular offences which can include child victims who are commonly criminalised for offences committed due to their exploitation.
  • Section 64 creates a duty to grant leave to victims of trafficking but does not recognise the specific standard for trafficked children and makes their leave contingent on unlawful requirements which contravene international law.

The Act will have a devastating impact for all trafficked children, and for migrant children who are at high risk of exploitation. Part 4 of the Act will increase the number of children who have to undergo traumatic age assessments, and increase the number of children wrongfully treated as adults and placed at risk.

Patricia Durr, CEO of ECPAT UK, said: “The Nationality and Borders Act 2022 will deepen the existing child protection crisis for child victims of trafficking and unaccompanied children at risk. It will affect all child victims regardless of their immigration status and will reduce significantly reduce protection that we know is already dangerously lacking.

“Trafficked children are already one of the most at-risk groups in the UK: almost a third went missing from local authority care in 2020. A lack of long-term sustainable solutions for every trafficked child, based on their best interests, continues to be a major factor in trafficked children going missing and suffering further exploitation.

“The government has repeatedly said that it supports decision making based on children’s best interests but continues to resist putting this on the face of primary legislation, whilst at the same time creating laws that have the exact opposite effect. We have raised the flag about this legislation and will continue to stand with child victims as this Act is implemented and to make the case about their rights and protection.”

ECPAT UK and joint briefings (developed with partner organisations) on the Nationality and Borders Bill are available here: