Fear of further rise in child exploitation cases during pandemic

By agency reporter
April 7, 2020

The Children’s Society has responded to new statistics showing the number of referrals to the National Referral Mechanism, the system which identifies victims of modern slavery and human trafficking for 2019.

The number of referrals of children suspected of being exploited in the UK rose from 3,128 in 2018, to 4,550 in 2019 –a 45 per cent increase.

During quarter 4, for the first time, there are separate figures for child criminal exploitation. This includes county lines drug trafficking, which previously came under the umbrella of child labour exploitation. This shows that there were 664 referrals just for child criminal exploitation, and a further 138 in which child criminal exploitation was suspected alongside other forms of exploitation. This means that of the 1,445 referrals in this quarter, child criminal exploitation was suspected in 802 cases (56 per cent)

The number of referrals for child labour exploitation – including referrals for child criminal exploitation - stood at 1,993 in 2018. It is not possible to compare this figure directly with that for 2019 due to the fact child criminal exploitation was recorded separately for quarter 4 of 2019.

Iryna Pona, Policy Manager at The Children’s Society, said: “These shocking figures should ring alarm bells, but even they will be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to showing the number of children trafficked within the UK and from abroad.

“Too often children at risk are not identified and knowledge of the National Referral Mechanism remains patchy among professionals. Even when a successful referral is made, the support available to children in really desperate situations is a postcode lottery.

“The rise in in referrals reflects how vulnerable children are being targeted by criminal groups, including for county lines operations - in which criminals cynically groom them using drugs, alcohol and promises of status and wealth, then coerce them with terrifying threats, violence and sexual abuse.

“We fear criminals may take advantage of the Covid19 crisis to target children who may be isolated from their usual support networks or missing supervision and support offered by school, college and other education settings. Schools and social care should work together to ensure all vulnerable pupils have support from a trusted professional who can check on their well-being and help keep them safe at the current time – and that all can attend education wherever possible.

“It’s vital that the Government agrees a national strategy to tackle child criminal exploitation, defines the offence in law and ensures all children at risk and who are being exploited, are identified and get timely support. This should include help from independent child trafficking guardians, who should be provided across the country for all children.”

* National Referral Mechanism statistics here

* The Children's Society https://www.childrenssociety.org.uk/


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