Modern slavery in the UK has risen by 22% in the past year, with at least 602 potential child victims of trafficking being identified in 2013 and many more children going undiscovered, according to official figures released today.

ECPAT UK warned that the statistics, from the National Crime Agency’s UK Human Trafficking Centre, were only indicative of a much wider problem and that urgent action was needed to prevent child trafficking, protect its victims and prosecute those abusing children in the UK and overseas.

The latest data found that the UK, Vietnam, Slovakia, Romania and Nigeria accounted for the top five countries of origins for children being trafficked into, around and out of the UK, with children being abused in sexual exploitation (40%), criminal exploitation (19%), labour exploitation (7%) and domestic servitude (6%). Children of all ages, including 72 aged under nine years old, were abused, according to the data gathered from across the UK.

There were 602 child victims of trafficking identified in 2013.
Overall, 2,744 potential victims were identified from 86 different countries, an increase of 22% on overall figures of adults and children from 2012.

Chloe Setter, Head of Advocacy, Policy & Campaigns, ECPAT UK, said: “Whilst the increased number of reported cases represents some improvement in victim identification, it is still a massive blight on our society that hundreds of children each year are being exploited, often experiencing multiple forms of abuse over long periods of time. It is unacceptable that those who exploit them often go unpunished whilst victims themselves face years of trauma and are often the ones who criminalised because of poor recognition of the problem by frontline practitioners.

“The Modern Slavery Bill before Parliament represents a huge opportunity to take meaningful action to protect children, slavery’s most vulnerable victims. This is why we are urging MPs to push for child-specific measures in the Bill, supported by 80,000 members of the public. These are concrete actions that will protect children and bring those abusing them to justice and we must act now to make our legislation fit for purpose.

“There is also an urgent need for the UK Government to take measures to prevent vulnerable children from becoming victims of abuse in the first place. This means strengthening the social welfare system in the UK, adequate resourcing of child protection services and training of frontline professionals to recognise and understand the nature of modern slavery in Britain today. However, we must look further than our own borders if we truly want to have any meaningful impact on reducing trafficking – reducing the vulnerability of children to such abuse.”