Joint Committee On Human Rights Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39


22 MAY 2006

  Q20 Chairman: We are now joined by our second group of witnesses: Christine Beddoe, who is Director of ECPAT UK, and Nasima Patel, who is the Area Children's Service Manager for London, NSPCC. I understand that you do not want to make an opening statement from ECPAT but do you want to from NSPCC?

  Ms Patel: No.

  Q21  Chairman: ECPAT suggests in its submission that trafficking of children for labour exploitation is more common than for sexual exploitation. What support is there for this argument? How are the dynamics different between the two forms of trafficking in your experience?

  Ms Beddoe: Thank you. Certainly through research conducted in 2003 and 2004 by our organisation—ECPAT UK—we were able to interview social services and other voluntary sector agencies across London and identified what social services themselves were able to identify as potential cases of trafficking. In a number of these cases it was clearly highlighted where children had been trafficked for purposes other than sexual exploitation and primarily for domestic servitude these were children coming from within the African communities. We have also had other evidence since then to suggest this is a continuing situation. Recently we have been hearing of more and more cases of Vietnamese children who apparently have been trafficked in connection with cannabis growing houses, which you may have already heard about from the police. This indicates to us that the spread of child trafficking, according to the case information that we have available to us, is coming from much broader than sexual exploitation. However, we must note that children who are trafficked, no matter what purpose they are trafficked for, become extremely vulnerable to sexual exploitation even though they may not have been trafficked with that as the original intent. I would like to highlight that because there are ongoing concerns about children who may have been trafficked for domestic servitude and other forms of labour exploitation but who have been raped and sexually abused once they are in the country.

  Q22  Chairman: Some of your earlier research referred to unaccompanied minors coming from Africa trafficked through to Italy, for example. Is that a significant trafficking route still or has that ceased?

  Ms Beddoe: I would not like to say it is significant without making a comparison. Earlier today I was attending the first ACPO—Association of Chief Police Officers—steering group meeting on child trafficking and once again this was raised as an issue within that particular meeting. I do believe that it is of continuing concern.

  Q23  Chairman: This question is to both of you but perhaps I can put it to Nasima first to give you a bit of a breather. You both mentioned the different ways by which children might be trafficked into the UK as accompanied or unaccompanied minors, through fostering arrangements and so forth. Have you any other information on the difficulties posed by these different modes of entry, for the detecting or preventing of trafficking?

  Ms Patel: I think the real challenge is around identification in trafficking because our expertise is mainly with children who have been trafficked and they do not recognise they have been trafficked. Children who the NSPCC have worked with tend to have come in not unaccompanied but with an adult, either a friend or someone who knows someone, and that is quite difficult. We have had cases where children have been disguised and come in on false identification. That is a real challenge. If children are unaccompanied that could trigger an intervention at the port of entry but if they are accompanied that is harder to identify. The biggest issue is identification.

  Ms Beddoe: I agree with Nasima on this issue of the problem of identification. One of the questions you will probably raise is the whole issue of statistics and numbers and what we know or do not know. What we know is there are structural barriers to identification because agencies, particularly statutory agencies, are not always mandated to collect specific information on trafficking even though children are coming through services who may well have been trafficked. I would agree with Nasima that the very big issue of victim identification is very much at the forefront of our concerns.

  Ms Patel: Even when you get unaccompanied minors it is very unusual for social services to ask them if they have been trafficked. There is no-one asking the questions along the way.

  Q24  Chairman: Are there any steps that might be taken with organisations in the countries of origin of these children? Are there organisations that you could work with there? Are there different factors in child trafficking as opposed to adult trafficking that pull or push you in different directions in this respect?

  Ms Beddoe: ECPAT UK is part of an international network of ECPAT groups in about 74 countries, so we are very used to working with our international partners and learning from them the good practice that is going on internationally, not only in Europe but right around the world. There are a number of ways in which that can be worked with children and their families and communities, and also the authorities, in source countries, as it were. Some of these are at the heart of prevention strategies. It is also worth underlining that trafficking and the vulnerability of children who come from many of these countries sits within the much broader issue of poverty, lack of opportunity and gender inequality, so we have to discuss prevention strategies among a much broader framework.

  Ms Patel: The notable thing about the children the NSPCC have worked with who have been trafficked is they tend to be children who come from countries where there is civil unrest so they are orphans and the issue of consent is problematic for our job but particularly for them.

  Q25  Chairman: Could I ask you about a point that ECPAT makes that the police are not really interested in child trafficking unless it is mixed up with wider criminal activity. We have heard in our informal briefing from the police about the involvement of organised crime. To what extent do you think the trafficking of children is part of organised crime as opposed to what I think would be crime anyway but occasional crime, in terms of drawing a distinction, for want of a better word? What proportion of child trafficking do you think is not about organised crime and, therefore, by definition from your evidence the police are not interested in it? Is it in fact the case that the police are not interested in it?

  Ms Beddoe: Interestingly enough, as I mentioned, today was the first ACPO steering group on child trafficking and I think it is a very good signal (a) that they invited voluntary sector agencies into that group to hear our side, but (b) it signals some of the issues are being addressed that we have raised and that goes to the heart of police guidance. We are hoping that will be something that we will see results on. In relation to your question as to whether or not the police are interested in child trafficking for purposes other than sexual exploitation, the answer is two-fold. One is the difficulties of victim identification. When children are trafficked for domestic servitude often the crime is in individual family homes, it is in communities where we do not naturally have a lot of access, so it goes to the heart of identifying victims in a scene that is not a normal crime scene as it would be in the case of some of the brothel raids that are going on. That is one of the issues. Secondly, the importance of identifying other forms of labour exploitation has not received the attention it deserves because it is not necessarily situated in what we really understand. For example, going back to domestic servitude and other forms of child labour, some of the case evidence we have is that children are working on building sites and this is not a natural place to see a crime against children. It is about education and awareness for the police to understand the situation of the crime and then we may see raised awareness moving to addressing the crime. Yes, we believe that children trafficked for other purposes is still the majority of cases that we get but the trends are changing all the time and we have got to be continually on top of those trends. One of the things I do want to raise is that although Operation Reflex, and certainly Operation Pentameter, is focusing a lot of energy and resources into the trafficking of women for sexual exploitation, one of the things we are hearing from our colleagues in partner projects and other services is a number of women who are being identified in these raids are just over 18, so between 18 and possibly 20. They may have started becoming involved in the trafficking cycle when they were a child and we have to come back to that point. We cannot avoid intelligence or trends simply because at the time of identification the woman was over 18, they may well have been under 18 and signalling a trend in child trafficking much earlier on.

  Ms Patel: The thing to add about child trafficking and police work would be the needs of groups of children who are victims of trafficking to give evidence and their support needs in terms of witness support and protection in going to court are quite enormous and challenging as well.

  Q26  Baroness Stern: My question is to both of you and it is about the current legislative framework. You both say that the current legislative framework is not adequate and that it focuses on criminal activity rather than victim protection. I wonder, first of all, if you could provide any more illustrations or examples or material that would help us to see the reality of that. Secondly, do you think there are particular legal changes that need to be made that enable us to respond better to child trafficking in particular?

  Ms Beddoe: I will start by saying that although I do not see a particular problem with the current legislative framework in relation to addressing criminal activity, I do want to bring your attention to the fact that so few people have been prosecuted for trafficking crimes against children and that in itself needs to be looked into. I am sure you have spoken to others about that. Although we do have the legislation in place we do not seem to be seeing very many results of that. First of all, on the protection of children, whilst we do have very good systems in this country for safeguarding children and very good provisions under the Children's Act, what seems to be in contradiction is the immigration legislation and how this creates a barrier to safeguarding the child victims of trafficking. Clearly this is one of our main concerns and we would like to see those contradictions between immigration legislation and the Children's Act and safeguarding children policies clearly prioritised to make sure children who are trafficked do receive the best possible care and attention that we have available under the Children's Act.

  Q27  Dr Harris: Do you mean by that the removal of the reservation on the UN Rights of the Child Convention?

  Ms Beddoe: That is definitely one of our concerns. We would like to see the removal of the reservation on Article 22.

  Ms Patel: The NSPCC would also like that. In terms of case material we have had children stay in detention centres or even, at the age of 15, in Holloway Prison. There is a tendency, and I think the legal framework goes to the heart of it, to treat children who have been trafficked as illegal immigrants, and that is an issue. We have had a number of girls who have gone through very convoluted, adult orientated, very punitive-type immigration tribunals. I have had staff who have attended the tribunals quite distressed at the way pregnant teenagers have been treated, and they are pregnant because they have been quite horrifically sexually exploited as well. In terms of case material, there is case material to demonstrate that. The other issue would be the fact that children being trafficked at the moment have to go through this immigration process and only get leave to remain until the age of 18 and we would request that the government does look at the possibility of giving indefinite leave to remain to children who are trafficked. If there is evidence that a child has been trafficked we would support a call for indefinite leave to remain. The other issue would be looking at the issue of re-trafficking and whether it could be grounds for asylum. Particularly if the child is orphaned and has been trafficked into this country then the chances of them being re-trafficked if they do get sent back are enormously high.

  Q28  Baroness Stern: Do you have any examples or is this your perception that this is what is likely to happen?

  Ms Patel: We have got a number of girls within our services who are now 18 and the legal advice they got initially was that the chance of them being deported is quite high at this stage, but the law is always changing. We are going through all sorts of due process and we are hoping that within the law there is movement for the fact that they have been orphaned and are quite socialised into society, quite integrated, and some of them are mothers, and that will be taken into account in their favour. We do have the possibility of a number of girls with children being deported at this stage on the advice we have got.

  Ms Beddoe: If I could just add to Nasima's point. The issue of re-trafficking is a very significant issue. We work with our international partners looking at some of these issues. Just to give you an example to illustrate the point: our partner agency in Cambodia is responsible for the repatriation of Vietnamese girls who have been trafficked into Cambodia and then returning them to Vietnam. I have been speaking to them a lot about the process and how they make decisions about when to return, how to return, and they are the only authorised organisation to assist with the repatriation process. They have confirmed that they will not repatriate any Vietnamese child until there has been a prosecution of the trafficker in Vietnam because they believe that the re-trafficking risk is so high that it is almost pointless to send the child back because they will be returned. We need to look at re-trafficking as a very significant issue, not only re-trafficking to the UK but re-trafficking patterns across the world. We have received information on a number of cases where the parents have been implicated in selling the child to an agent and therefore are part of the trafficking process and family reunification is absolutely not in the best interests of those children. We need to take on board a lot of these concerns when we think about re-trafficking.

  Q29  Dr Harris: Do you think that the detection and dealing with the problem of child trafficking is a high enough priority for the enforcement authorities in this country?

  Ms Beddoe: I think we are going through a period of change in seeing how authorities, particularly the police, are dealing with this issue. Once again, drawing on my lunchtime meeting today with the ACPO group, there is now a willingness to come to the table and say, "We don't know enough. We need support and help and guidance". I do not think it is a high enough priority from what we can see across the board. We need to recognise that there is very little guidance available for law enforcement and enforcement officers, not only the police but also immigration, who are really at the coal face.

  Q30  Dr Harris: Would you say that there is a problem in respect of resources, not just a lack of resources because everyone would say there is a lack of resources in their area, but the activity in this area creates work for social services, for the police, for immigration and, therefore, no-one wants the extra work and unless there is a policy to prioritise it to meet a target somewhere then by default it is not going to be a high priority?

  Ms Patel: I am sure the police would be quite open in saying they are relying on hard-pressed social services to take on a lot of the complex needs of these children. It is not just about a lack of resources, it is a lack of expertise as well. Social services have to take these children on but do not really know what to do, so we have case material of trafficked children being put in semi-independent, inadequate accommodation without a lot of support. The challenge for the police and social services is although they have a framework there that they will get put in accommodation, there are not that many services to work with these children who have been trafficked.

  Q31  Dr Harris: Is there a problem with co-ordination of the agencies concerned? If so, are you hopeful that the UK National Action Plan will provide that co-ordination if you feel that it is lacking?

  Ms Patel: The thing with the National Plan is it is voluntary, it is not compulsory, and what happens when local authorities do not comply with the guidance. What you are going to get is a very case-by-case service and inconsistency in terms of quality of response, which is the issue. We would like a proper National Plan just for children who have been victims of trafficking.

  Ms Beddoe: Can I pick up on one point. You mentioned earlier something about accountability and it is worth noting there are still no performance measures across the police and a range of other services in regards to trafficking. As we all know, until you have those performance measurements in place there will be those who will see other competing priorities. Perhaps that is something that we would see as an issue to be raised to make sure those performance measures are in place.

  Q32  Dr Harris: That is very helpful. Before I hand over to Lord Judd can I just change the subject slightly and ask a completely different question. I understand there is a debate in Europe about whether in terms of managing demand, as in Article 6 of the Convention, making more legitimate mainstream prostitution, for which it is alleged there will always be a demand and will always exist, will make it less likely that children are used because men using these prostitutes can go to a state regulated service, if you like. Is there any support for that idea and is there any evidence from your international work, ECPAT in particular, that there may be merit in that?

  Ms Beddoe: As a children's focused agency we do not get into the debate at all about adult prostitution. We do not find it terribly helpful for our work. We need to look at children involved in sexual exploitation as—

  Chairman: This is going a bit beyond our terms of reference. We have a lot of ground to cover today.

  Q33  Dr Harris: No, I do not think it is. I just want to ask my question. I do believe it is relevant. I will try to put it again. It has been argued that children are less likely to be used in prostitution if there is a form of prostitution that is not underground, that is not criminal, that is inspected and is therefore more legitimate than in states where it is all illegal and there is no incentive on the users or the providers to worry about the degree of exploitation and, therefore, that might reduce the human rights abuses overall.

  Ms Beddoe: That goes beyond the mandate of my organisation so I cannot really comment.

  Q34  Lord Judd: I think it would help the Committee if you could identify some improvements that you think could be made in the procedures which are used to determine whether a child is a victim of trafficking.

  Ms Patel: I think one of the issues would be the appointment of some sort of guardian or advocate for that young person who has been trafficked, not by the voluntary sector but by the local authority. That would be quite useful. The other thing that would help as well is to have easier access to services, particularly appropriate accommodation, to have lots of cultural and linguistic support for children who have been trafficked.

  Q35  Lord Judd: How do you determine the age of the child? How do you tackle this issue of whether they are being privately fostered? How do you discern whether they are being privately fostered or not?

  Ms Patel: The private fostering issue is slightly complicated in the sense that there are changes afoot. If a child has been privately fostered, the onus is on the family which receives that child to declare they have got a privately fostered child and the local authority will undertake a social assessment to make sure that child is being well looked after. On the age issue, there are psychological and social work assessments you can get to determine the age of the child. It has not been that problematic for us. We have got very experienced social workers who have worked with children for a long time and in terms of development discussions and issues you can have with the child it is not that onerous to establish the age of a child.

  Q36  Lord Judd: Do you think the immigration officials at the point of entry are getting the kind of support and training that is necessary to help in that respect?

  Ms Patel: Yes, you could offer training and guidance. One of the things we do advocate is the multi-agency teams. If an immigration official thinks that a child looks vulnerable they could refer them to the multi-agency team who would carry out more of an investigative assessment and look more into the details of that case. It is possible that would help.

  Ms Beddoe: Just to reaffirm Nasima's point, we also advocate multi-agency teams, not only what we have already, very good teams at Heathrow, but also right across the country at points of entry. The only other thing I can add to Nasima's earlier point is the importance of not only physical health but also mental health issues and the importance of post-traumatic stress we are seeing very much playing out in children as well as adults, as you have already heard. There is psychosocial care and psychological and mental health issues.

  Q37  Lord Judd: Before we leave this section, is there anything you would like to say about how measures could be improved in terms of what is done with the child when trafficking has been detected?

  Ms Patel: Again, just to reiterate what I said earlier, when a child has been trafficked, a child has been horrifically abused and exploited but has been removed from his or her home to a completely different culture and society, we need to take into account the displacement issue as well. One of the things that strikes us about the children we work with is the absolute isolation that they feel. I know the previous witnesses attested to the point that it does take a long time to build a relationship with a child, for them to tell you his or her story and what has happened. We would ask for sustained funding for good services for those children who can offer a variety of needs in different areas: health, accommodation, a lot of befriending, a lot of emotional support, so they can relate the abuse they have experienced and start recovering.

  Q38  Lord Judd: To remember they are children.

  Ms Patel: Absolutely.

  Q39  Mary Creagh: Both of you in your submissions called upon the Government to remove its reservation to Article 22 of the UN Convention and asked for the UK asylum process to recognise child trafficking as a cause of persecution on return. Can you just talk a little bit more about why you want that and what you think that would achieve?

  Ms Beddoe: The removal of the reservation would signal not only understanding and acceptance that all children who are in the UK deserve the best possible care that we can give them, so it is a principle issue, as it were, to start with, but also that we recognise something that Nasima picked up as well, that of the long-term nature of working with children who are trafficked and who have suffered the most horrendous abuses. It is not something that happens immediately overnight and we can find a quick solution and that is the end of the problem, this is something that may go on for some time and we need to recognise that in all our policies and provisions. In terms of removing that, that is unquestionable both from ECPAT and NSPCC. Sorry, what was the second part of the question?

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2006
Prepared 20 October 2006