Sex abuse trafficking: number of UK child victims doubles

Government hopes new anti-slavery bill will help target trafficking gangs, but is it enough?

LAST UPDATED AT 10:00 ON Tue 18 Feb 2014

THE number of UK-born children believed to have been trafficked for sexual exploitation has more than doubled, according to the National Crime Agency (NCA). Last year, 56 young people were flagged up as potential victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation, a rise of 155 per cent on 2012. It is unclear whether they were being taken out of the country or moved within the UK – and even these official figures are unlikely to reflect the scale of the issue.

How many victims of trafficking are there in the UK?

The NCA said a total of 1,746 people from 112 different countries were highlighted as potential victims of trafficking in 2013 – up 47 per cent on the previous year. The number of foreign children identified as potential victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation in the UK rose by 11 per cent, to 88. Labour MP Frank Field, who carried out a review into modern slavery, commissioned by the Home Office, believes there are around 10,000 victims of slavery in the UK. He published his findings in December, writing in The Times: “In Britain, Vietnamese boys are forced to work on cannabis farms, Nigerian women held in domestic servitude, Polish and British men used as forced labourers and British and eastern European girls trafficked into prostitution.”

What is being done to protect victims?

The National Crime Agency continues to target trafficking gangs, who face tougher sentences under new draft legislation published last December. The Modern Slavery Bill is the first of its kind in Europe, according to the Home Office.

Why do we need an anti-slavery bill?

Critics say the current legislation relating to human trafficking and slavery – scattered under several different acts – is "messy" and "confusing". The Modern Slavery Bill aims to consolidate the offences used to prosecute those who enslave others into a single act. Home Secretary Theresa May says the bill "gives us the best possible start to removing the scourge of slavery from contemporary Britain".

What's included in the bill?
  • Maximum custodial sentence for offenders will be increased from 14 years to life.
  • Offenders with prior convictions for very serious sexual or violent offences will face automatic life sentences.
  • Trafficking Prevention Orders will be introduced, restricting the activity and movement of convicted traffickers to stop them from committing further offences.
  • A new anti-slavery commissioner will be appointed to hold authorities to account.
Is anything missing from the bill?

Some say the legislation is too narrow and does not provide enough protection for victims. Two thirds of children rescued from trafficking in Britain went missing again after being found by the original gang, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "Failed once by those who betrayed them into slavery, they are failed again by the state in not protecting them. Trafficked children should have access to a trusted and independent advocate, or guardian, who is legally responsible for them and their interests," she said. Meanwhile, successful prosecutions for trafficking are still extremely rare, with only 39 people prosecuted for trafficking-related offences in 2012. Better support for victims would help to bring these numbers up, experts have told the Independent on Sunday, rather than superficial changes to legislation.

When will the bill reach the statute book?

It should be rubber-stamped by the next election, which is due in 2015. · 

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