The Trade in Human Beings: Human Trafficking in the UK - Home Affairs Committee Contents

5  Protection

Availability of support services for victims

139. In its Report into Human Trafficking in October 2006, our sister Committee, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, concluded: "there is clearly insufficient capacity in the system to provide shelter and specialist support services for the [victims] who need them, and we urge that capacity be expanded as a matter of priority."[233] The evidence we received was that the situation has not altered since then.

140. The Poppy Project remains the sole UK Government-funded dedicated service for women trafficked into sexual exploitation. The Poppy Project is able to provide accommodation and support services (healthcare, counselling, legal advice) for up to 35 women and it has an outreach service offering support to those whom it cannot house. Of the 1146 women referred to the Poppy Project for help between March 2003 and February 2009, 215 received full support (ie accommodation plus other services) and 208 were helped through the outreach service.[234] The Government has recently (on 24 March 2009) announced a further grant of £3.7 million over the next two years to the Poppy project, part of which will be used to expand supported accommodation in London, Sheffield and Cardiff for victims of sex trafficking and domestic servitude.[235] We asked the Poppy Project about any similar services outside London and were told of a group in Scotland called TARA, which is run jointly by Glasgow City Council and the Strathclyde Police.[236] Apart from this, the Poppy Project mentioned an umbrella group, CHASTE, which brought together churches offering support and accommodation to victims of sex trafficking, and some women's aid groups that housed victims in women's refuges and provided what support they could. In the Poppy Project's view, outside London there was a lack of groups who could provide the mental health support and legal advice needed by women trafficked into sexual exploitation. There were also significant regional variations: there was some effort to provide support in South West England, in Leeds and elsewhere in Northern England, but little or nothing elsewhere. Moreover, though their willingness to help was not in doubt, the church and women's aid groups suffered acutely from a lack of public funding.[237]

141. The situation for victims of forced labour, including migrant domestic workers, is even worse: until the Government's announcement in March of extra funding for the Poppy Project, there was no dedicated accommodation for such victims. Kalayaan told us that it often had to ask church groups for emergency accommodation for domestic workers who had—by definition—lost their home in fleeing their employer.[238] The Gangmasters Licensing Authority also had to work with charities, migrant worker groups and churches to ensure support for workers when a gangmaster's licence was revoked. The Authority told us that before taking action against a company, it completed a community impact assessment including such issues as the size of the workforce, the nationality of the workers, and whether they would need emergency housing. It assured us: "we do not want as an unintended consequence of our actions to make the immediate situation worse for the workers."[239] The Authority said that occasionally it was able to obtain help from other organisations in resettling workers, giving the example of an operation that led to the closure of a company providing labour to the food processing and packaging industry, during which a supermarket and a packaging company were able to help 138 Polish workers, the entire workforce, into temporary direct employment.[240]

142. We were told that, according to the Government's own estimates (in its impact assessment on the ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on trafficking), the number of referrals of suspected victims per year would considerably exceed the number of places available in safe accommodation.[241]

143. We asked our witnesses for examples of best practice in the provision of support services for victims of trafficking. The Netherlands and Belgium were frequently cited as models of good practice, though there was also criticism of some aspects of their treatment of victims, such as the block on victims claiming asylum in the Netherlands.[242]

144. It is clear that not all—possibly a minority—of recovered victims are provided with safe accommodation. Even fewer appear to be given psychological help or legal advice or, in the case of those clearly entitled to work in the UK, assistance in obtaining another job. What support there is appears to be concentrated in London. We agree with our witnesses that there is an urgent need for more accommodation and other support services, especially outside London and for those trafficked into forced labour.[243] However, without a better estimate of the scale of trafficking in the UK, it is difficult to determine what extra services are needed and where.

Protection of children

145. In contrast to the situation with adults, local authorities have the duty to ensure accommodation for children rescued from traffickers. However, despite Home Office guidance that children must always be dealt with following normal childcare policies and procedures, there is evidence that victims of trafficking are not. We were told that child trafficking victims were rarely provided with a full needs assessment, though this was standard for a British child, and they were routinely accommodated in hostels rather than foster care even when severely traumatised and still at risk.[244] Moreover, while their physical health needs were usually quickly met, it was often far more difficult for them to access mental healthcare because of long waiting lists.[245] The NSPCC suggested "some practitioners consider that migrant children have a lesser entitlement to protection", adding that worries about the cost of providing care were a disincentive for local authorities to identify children as trafficking victims at all.[246] In general, our witnesses felt that support services for such children were 'patchy', with a small number of local areas providing models of good practice but no discernible pattern.[247]

A young woman was trafficked to the UK, aged 15, and placed in hostel accommodation and then in shared housing with other young women, none of whom had a common language. She was swiftly traced by her trafficker who forced her back into prostitution and prevented her from attending college or finding a normal job. Eventually, social services and the police intervened, having been aware of the situation for some time. The victim now has the right to remain permanently in the UK but, having spent 5 years in the country, is still illiterate in English.

146. Most worryingly, we had seen media reports that significant numbers of possible child trafficking victims were going missing from local authority care. ECPAT UK told us that the figure of 400 children reported by the media was derived from a request under the Freedom of Information Act to which only a small number of authorities had responded, so the national figure was likely to be much higher. ECPAT UK's own small-scale research covering five local authorities in the North East and North West of England and the West Midlands had found that of 80 children known or suspected to have been trafficked over an 18-month period, 56% had gone missing from local authority care, without anyone being able to discover where they had gone.[248] The ADCS reported that colleagues in Kent in particular had reported a significant percentage of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children going missing from their care.[249] ECPAT UK's study noted that the majority of children who go missing do so within the first week of going into care, and it summarised the circumstances as follows:

Many of the children in this study who went missing had not been investigated, identified or recorded as a victim of trafficking at the time they went missing. As these children have never been traced we cannot know what has happened to them, why they went missing or whether they are still in the UK. We know from missing children who have found their way back to social services care that there are two common scenarios for trafficked children in local authority care. The first is that, even after a child registers with social services, the trafficker still has control of the child and seeks to remove the child from the area as soon as possible. The second common scenario is that the child runs away from care out of fear of being found by the trafficker. Without financial resources or identity documents, the child is then at risk of further abuse or exploitation.[250]

147. CEOP confirmed the scale of the problem. Of the 330 children studied in CEOP's child trafficking scoping exercise in 2007, up to half had gone missing by the time that CEOP carried out its work.[251] However, CEOP and the ADCS said it was likely that a number of the 'missing' children might have moved to another local authority area and been taken into care there, perhaps using a different name and a different background story.[252] ECPAT's Missing Out study provides examples of children moving around the country in this way.[253] In response to a Written Parliamentary Question, we were told:

"The number of asylum-seeking children who went missing from care for 24 hours or more, in each of the years ending March 2003 to 2007, was as follows:

The Minister added: "Some of these may have subsequently returned to care", but gave no figures for this.[254] It is not clear whether anyone knows how many, if any, returned to care. The ADCS suggested it was probably reasonable to conclude that every year between 10 and 20 young people disappeared completely.[255] Subsequently, there have been newspaper reports of 77 Chinese children going missing from a single local authority home in Hillingdon within the last three years.[256]

148. We had assumed that the National Register for Unaccompanied Children might help to identify the children who moved from one local authority area to another. The National Register is a database providing information about unaccompanied asylum-seeking children to statutory authorities. Local authorities are able to see information only on children in their area, but if a cross-match is identified with a child missing from another local authority then the register gives a contact name and location. The ADCS said it was sometimes possible to track a child through the Register though not always; but it thought the situation was better than it had been before the Register was set up.[257] CEOP believed local authorities were not sufficiently aware of the Register and data was not added to it regularly, thus limiting its usefulness. CEOP suggested that local authority officials needed more training.[258] We note that the effectiveness of the Register depends on whether the child gives the same information to the second authority that takes him or her into care as to the first. This appears often not to happen.

149. We asked how so many children could go missing. We were told that there were different types of placement for these children, ranging from foster care, through relatively supervised care homes to relatively unsupervised homes. CEOP said that sometimes children (mostly those aged over 14) had been placed in relatively unsupervised accommodation while a foster home was found.[259] These were not secure units but a 'protective' environment, so children could just walk out of them.[260] Some of ATLeP's child clients had been placed in foster homes at first but, at the age of 15 or 16, they were taken from their foster parents by the local authority and placed in hostels with other newly trafficked children and with young adults. This sometimes put them at risk of being trafficked again because of their emotional vulnerability and the lack of family support.[261] West Sussex Social Services established a safe house for child victims of trafficking which was subsequently closed because of lack of funding.[262] CEOP admitted it was not sure that there was enough appropriate accommodation for these at-risk children.[263]

150. Furthermore, ECPAT UK alleged that when trafficked children went missing, the police and children's services did not respond in the same way as they would if a British child had gone missing—they did not follow the same recommended procedures.[264] CEOP told us that it was considering whether it could help the UKBA to use biometric techniques—biometric analysis of photographs—to help identify whether a child appearing in one local authority area was the same child who had gone missing from another area.[265]

151. We are alarmed by the accounts given by our witnesses and reinforced by anecdotal evidence of traffickers training children to present themselves as unaccompanied asylum seekers in order to be placed in insecure care, often near the port of entry, which the trafficker can persuade or coerce them to leave. In effect, traffickers may be using the care home system for vulnerable children as holding pens for their victims until they are ready to pick them up.

152. While we do not advocate the, in effect, imprisonment of such children, we were appalled by the ease with which they can leave accommodation. We recognise that one element of the problem is that many have not been identified as victims of trafficking, but we are of the view that no unaccompanied asylum-seeking child should be placed in such a vulnerable situation: all are by definition young, inexperienced, in a strange country, many will be unable to speak English and have little or no knowledge of local customs, and some will be traumatised by the events that led them to flee their home country or by their experiences during their journey to the UK or by both. Moreover, even those identified as victims and given foster care may be placed in unsupervised accommodation once they reach the age of 15 or 16.

153. ECPAT UK told us that it had repeatedly asked the Government to look into the issue of trafficking victims going missing from local authority care, but a succession of Ministers had refused to treat this group any differently from the other children who go missing from care. While it is regrettable that any child should disappear for a prolonged period or permanently from local authority care, we think that the Government's response does not recognise the peculiar vulnerability of trafficked children—even when these children leave care homes apparently voluntarily, in reality they are being deceived and exploited or are in fear of being kidnapped. We recommend that the Government carry out a specific nationwide study into the number of possible child trafficking victims going missing from care and how this number could be reduced. We intend to return to this subject ourselves in an evidence session to be held later this year.

154. Those working with child victims of trafficking had an answer to the problem of ensuring children received appropriate accommodation and care: the appointment of a guardian, with responsibility for dealing with all the agencies involved in the care of the child—ensuring enhanced foster care, legal advice, the provision of qualified interpreters and physical and mental health care. ECPAT UK argued that only this degree of protection would make a child feel safer with the UK authorities than they were on the streets or with their trafficker.[266] ECPAT UK suggested that the Netherlands provided one good model of guardianship, but there were others.[267] The Refugee Council claimed that very few cases dealt with by its Children section went missing as the victims were given the support they needed.[268] In contrast, neither CEOP nor the ADCS was convinced that a guardianship system would help to prevent children from disappearing, particularly if, as was likely to be the case, the responsible adult was not on the spot.[269] The existence of a specified person appointed by the local authority to supervise the care of each child could lead to better co-ordination and possibly the provision of extra services for those in need of hard-to-access support. We therefore recommend that such a system be established. However, we cannot see how in practice guardians would reduce the likelihood that victims would abscond or be kidnapped from local authority accommodation.

233   Para 155 Back

234   Ev 256, para 2.6 These figures represent a rise since December 2007 of 326 women referred, 47 receiving full support and 97 outreach support: Ev 152-153. Back

235   HC Deb, 24 March 2009, col 10WS Back

236   Ev 274, para 1.1 Back

237   Qq 71-72; see also Q 200 (ATLeP) Back

238   Q 156 and Ev 119, para 10 Back

239   Qq 136 and 142 Back

240   Q 136 and Ev 219 Back

241   Ev 250, para 12 (Stop the Traffick) Back

242   See, for example, Q 70 (Poppy Project) and Ev 102, para 24 (Dr Tomoya Obokata) Back

243   Q 57 (Poppy Project); Ev 98, para 5.1 (Anti-Slavery International); Ev 101, para 16 (Dr Tomoya Obokata); Ev 164, paras 2.4 and 6.1 (ADCS and ADASS Asylum Task Force); Ev 185, para 15 and Ev 186, para 21 (Amnesty International UK) Back

244   Ev 181 (ATLeP); Ev 113, paras E.1-E.3 (NSPCC) Back

245   Q 105 (ECPAT) Back

246   Ev 248, paras 3.3 and 3.5 Back

247   Q 108 (ECPAT) Back

248   Qq 85-92 (ECPAT) and Missing Out: A Study of Child Trafficking in the North-West, North-East and West Midlands, published by ECPAT in 2007 (hereafter 'Missing Out') See also Ev 143,paras 23-28 (Save the Children) Back

249   Q 476 Back

250   Missing Out, pp 20 and 5 See also Qq 101-102 (ECPAT); Ev 144, para 31 (Save the Children) Back

251   Q 362 Back

252   Qq 362 and 387 (CEOP) and 476 (ADCS) Back

253   Pp 20-23 Back

254   HC Deb, 23 October 2008, col 513-514 Back

255   Q 477 Back

256   'Revealed: 77 trafficked Chinese children lost by home', Guardian, 5 May 2009 Back

257   Q 479 Back

258   Qq 400-401 Back

259   Qq 394-397; Ev 164, para 23 (ADCS/ADASS Asylum Task Force); Ev 207, para 11.1 (Refugee Council) Back

260   Q 391 Though Save the Children cited examples of children going missing from foster homes and supposedly 24-hour supervised accommodation, too: Ev 145, para 38 Back

261   Q 202 and Ev 181 Back

262   Ev 145, para 37 (Save the Children) Back

263   Q 391 See also Ev 246, para 6.5 (NSPCC) and Ev 247 (NSPCC and ECPAT) Back

264   Q 100 See also Ev 116, para H.4 (NSPCC) and Ev 206, para 8.1 (Refugee Council) Back

265   Q 387 Back

266   Q 106 and Ev 105, paras 10-11 See also Ev 246, para 6.5 (NSPCC) and Ev 146-147, paras 46-55 (Save the Children) Back

267   Q 107 Back

268   Ev 205, para 3.5 Back

269   Qq 362 and 393 (CEOP) and 478 (ADCS) Back

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