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Heading back to harm

Author: ECPAT UK, in partnership with Missing People

Alarming number of trafficked children going missing from care, charities warn. Trafficked and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are going missing from UK care at an “alarmingly high” rate, leading charities ECPAT UK and Missing People have said in a new report released today.

“We are nobody in this country.”

Trafficked child, interviewed for new ECPAT UK and Missing People report

The report, entitled Heading back to harm: A study on trafficked and unaccompanied children going missing from care in the UK, has found that more than a quarter of all trafficked children and over 500 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children went missing at least once in the year to September 2015, while 207 have not been found.  

Data collected from 217 local authorities across the UK reveals a “deeply concerning” inconsistency in identifying and recording information on these vulnerable children, with many unable to report on overall numbers of trafficked and unaccompanied children in their care.

These serious data collection flaws, along with the high numbers of trafficked and unaccompanied children going missing, suggest that the UK’s wider child protection response is inadequate, leaving children vulnerable to re-trafficking and abuse.

The report calls on national and local government to reform the child protection system by immediately introducing child-specific training on child trafficking, unaccompanied children and missing; urgently rolling out the national independent child trafficking advocates scheme; resourcing safe and appropriate accommodation with victim-centred safety planning; improving data recording on trafficking and missing; and implementing a coordinated national, regional and local response to this startling trend.

Heading back to harm: A study on trafficked and unaccompanied children going missing from care in the UKanalyses Freedom of Information request data from 217 local authorities on trafficked and unaccompanied children going missing from care in the year to September 2015. It also draws on information collected from two focus groups with children and young people who have been trafficked, as well as online surveys of practitioners and policy makers.

Thurrock, Hillingdon, Croydon, Kent County Council and Surrey had the highest numbers of trafficked and unaccompanied children going missing. The top three nationalities of missing trafficked children were Vietnamese, British and Albanian, while Albanian, Afghan, Vietnamese and Eritrean children accounted for the highest proportion of missing unaccompanied children.

London, the South East, East Anglia and the East and West Midlands accounted for 75% (445) of the 590 trafficked children and 90% (4,267) of the total 4,744 of unaccompanied children.

“For too long, children who are at risk of exploitation, or who have been trafficked, have gone missing from care – sometimes repeatedly, sometimes forever. It is a national disgrace that this problem has remained neglected and these children rendered invisible by poor data collection and national coordination. Heading back to harm has attempted to shine a light on this problem and, in doing so, has unearthed an alarming trend of our most vulnerable children disappearing; hundreds of them never to be found. We must not accept this as a reality any longer. Every child that goes missing is a failure in our duty to protect them from harm. The government must listen to the voices and experiences of young people, and urgently redress the gaps in our protection systems that allow traffickers to flourish and children to suffer.”

Chloe Setter, Head of Advocacy, Policy & Campaigns, ECPAT UK

“Any child who goes missing is at risk of harm, from sleeping rough or being a victim of crime or exploitation. Trafficked and unaccompanied children are especially vulnerable and in greater need of protection. It is therefore vital that any trafficked or unaccompanied child who goes missing is treated as high risk by the police and other agencies and that finding them and making them safe is always prioritised over any questions about their immigration status or criminal activity. It is also crucial that these vulnerable children are treated with respect and compassion by all professionals to create a culture of trust in their uncertain and unsettled lives.”

Susannah Drury, Director of Policy and Research, Missing People

The report will be launched in Parliament with Sarah Newton, Minister for Vulnerability, Safeguarding and Countering Extremism, on Tuesday 15th November.


15 November 2016

Heading back to harm