Memorandum submitted by ECPAT UK
Child trafficking victims (including ratification
of the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution
and Child Pornography)
1. In 2006-07 the JCHR undertook a
major enquiry into human trafficking to which ECPAT UK submitted
oral and written evidence; this report was published in October
2006. ECPAT UK firmly supported the main recommendation from the
JCHR's report which was that "a more victim-centred approach
to dealing with human trafficking was necessary in order to meet
the UK's human rights obligations."
2. ECPAT UK has mapped over 25 countries
where trafficked children have originated from over the past five
years. ECPAT UK's research in London (2002,
and Manchester, Newcastle and West Midlands (2007),
presents a complex picture of child trafficking. The majority
of trafficked children are already highly vulnerable in their
home country before they become the targets of traffickers. Some
children trafficked to the UK have already been exploited and
abused, and many appear to have been living in households with
adults who do not have parental responsibility. The circumstances
of them travelling with traffickers are often the result of being
deceived, sold or coerced rather than abduction or kidnapping.
3. Significantly, many children believe
they are coming to a better life, some not having any idea they
are coming to Europe, and innocently go along with offers of education
or employment. Once in the UK children experience exploitation
through domestic servitude, forced labour, sexual exploitation,
cannabis cultivation, street crime, forced marriage and benefit
fraud. ECPAT UK research shows that the vast majority of children
appear to come from Africa, China and Vietnam. In Operation Pentameter,
launched in 2006 to identify and rescue trafficked women
in saunas and brothels around the UK, 84 foreign females
were identified as victims of trafficking, 12 of these were
under 18: of those 12 children nine were of African origin
and three were European. Operation Pentameter II identified 167 victims,
including 13 children aged between 14 and 17, who were
rescued across Britain and Ireland.
4. On the basis of past research and interviews
across local authorities around the UK, ECPAT UK estimates that
at any given time a minimum of 600 children, known or suspected
of being trafficked, will be in the asylum system or will have
been in the asylum system before going missing from local authority
care. This represents 10% of the Home Office quoted figure of
6,000 total number of unaccompanied asylum seeking children
supported by local authorities.
The ECPAT UK figure of 600 children is a very conservative
estimate based on limited data.
5. ECPAT UK has welcomed the progress the
Government has made recently on trafficking; namely the ratification
of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking
in Human Beings (the Convention) and the withdrawal of the reservation
to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child relating to immigration
6. In our experience trafficked children
usually arrive in the country either without identification documents
or with false documents. In accordance with the Convention [Article
10 (3)] in cases where the age of the trafficking victim
is unclear the young person should be given the benefit of the
doubt, presumed to be a child and provided with special protection
until his or her age is verified. To date there has been no directive
or guidance from the Home Office, Department for Children, Schools
and Families or the Association of Local Government to Local Authorities
on how they are to enforce this Convention requirement. Currently
many child victims of trafficking are age assessed by Local Authorities
as over 18 based on non-medical grounds. These assessments
are routinely and successfully challenged by children's legal
advisors. However, during the interim period these children are
deemed to be "age disputed" and this can often lead
to inappropriate housing and no protection. There are too many
age-disputed cases and the Government must take urgent steps to
improve decision-making. In 2005 nearly half (45%) of all
asylum applicants presenting as separated children were age disputed
and treated as adults.
7. If a trafficked child is assessed to
be over 18 by the Home Office during an asylum application
they can become subject to the dispersal process, as such child
victims of trafficking can be quickly placed around the country
in inappropriate accommodation with unknown adults. This process
must be reviewed in light of Article 10 of the Convention.
8. ECPAT UK acknowledges that the Government
has gone beyond the minimum 30 day figure set in the Convention
and set the recovery and reflection time for trafficking victims
at 45 days. ECPAT UK believes this should be further extended
to 12 months. The current proposals for residence permit
for trafficked children are unclear. ECPAT UK considers that a
system of renewable residence permit for children must offer greater
protection than the currently available systems of discretionary
leave until a child is 17 years and six months. Indefinite
leave to remain must be an option for trafficked children, especially
those who are in grave danger of abuse, exploitation and re-trafficking
if they are returned to their home country. Immigration status
should not be contingent on the child's co-operation with criminal
investigations. This incentive approach is at odds with a human
rights approach to the treatment of the child.
9. ECPAT UK was pleased that the Government
set up the Human Trafficking Centre in 2006. The UK HTC was set
up to be "the central point of development of law enforcement
expertise and operational coordination".
However we are concerned that the UK HTC is failing to act with
the requisite urgency in matters relating to trafficked or suspected
trafficked children. A key responsibility for the UK HTC is to
develop measures to protect and support victims and it is not
clear how this assistance is being provided.
10. UK HTC presents itself a multi-agency
centre but there is currently no child protection team within
the centre, nor is there a visible child protection policy on
the UK HTC website. UKHTC does not appear to fall under Section
11 of The Children Act (2004) placing a duty of care on all
UKHTC personnel. ECPAT UK would like to see all UKHTC policies
audited against child protection and safeguarding policies, and
that competency based training on child protection is mandatory
for all staff.
11. ECPAT UK has called for a National Rapporteur
on Human Trafficking, with a specific responsibility for children,
to be established to act as a focal point on trafficking. The
National Rapporteur should have statutory powers to request information
from police, immigration authorities, child protection agencies
(both government and non-government). The Rapporteur would be
responsible for gathering data, analysing trends and emerging
issues, independent oversight and making recommendations for improvement
in the implementation of the UK Action plan on tackling Human
12. There continue to be no "safe house"
facilities for child victims of trafficking in the UK. Safe accommodation
is the central point around which every other service should co-ordinate.
ECPAT UK considers the appropriate safe accommodation model to
be a holistic and integrated approach with other support services
that can provide an interface with specialist legal, interpreting,
medical and counselling services. In some cases the child will
also require secure accommodation to safeguard them from the threat
of traffickers. Young people need to feel safe and secure before
disclosing their story or giving evidence. A range of safe accommodation
options should be developed including emergency accommodation
and specialist foster care with appropriately trained foster carers.
13. The UK signed the Optional Protocol
on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography
to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 2007.
ECPAT UK is pleased that Government announced in September 2008 that
ratification was imminent
but would like to see a timetable in place for ratification without
Criminalisation of children
14. ECPAT UK continues to be disappointed and
frustrated at the treatment of trafficked children coerced into
criminal activities. As a signatory of the CRC and in the spirit
of the "Every child matters" approach the Government
should ensure that trafficked children are treated as victims
rather that criminals. The best interest of the child should be
the cornerstone of the Government's strategy and action plan for
combating child trafficking. ECPAT UK believes that it is wrong
to prosecute children for crimes that they are forced into committing
or are unaware they are taking part in criminal activity.
15. The Government should follow the recommendations
from the Concluding Observations of the UN CRC Committee and "
intensify its efforts to ensure that detention of asylum-seeking
and migrant children is always used as a measure of last resort
and for the shortest appropriate period of time, in compliance
with article 37 (b) of the Convention." (Recommendation
71, October 2008)
16. ECPAT UK supports the CRC Committee's
recommendations to increase the age of criminal responsibility
in the UK. Children in Scotland can be held criminally responsible
at the age of eight years old. In England, Wales and Northern
Ireland the minimum age is 10. In many of the Nordic countries
the age for criminal responsibility is set at 15 and in Belgium
it is 18 years old. The Council of Europe's European Committee
of Social Rights (which monitors State compliance with the European
Social Charter) as well as the UN CRC Committee and other UN Treaty
Bodies have all recommended substantial increases.
17. Current information gathered from local
authorities and police suggests that: the trafficking of Chinese
children has increased in recent years and coincides with the
numbers of Chinese children going missing from local authority
care; the trafficking of Vietnamese children for cannabis cultivation
has increased and so too the trafficking of Roma children from
Romania and Bulgaria for street crime such as bag-snatching.
18. ECPAT UK has been gravely concerned
by the number of Vietnamese children who have been prosecuted
and convicted for drug and immigration offences following raids
of so called "Cannabis Factories". During raids on cannabis
factories, often the only people arrested are those who are in
the house at the time, tending the plants who are often children
who have been trafficked. These children are victims of crime
and should be seen as child witnesses' not as perpetrators, yet
case evidence available to ECPAT UK shows children as young as
14, both boys and girls, being convicted for drug offences and
immigration offences who have been sentenced and awaiting deportation.
The Refugee Council has documented 18 such cases in a yet
to be published report. These children spent between six to 24 months
in a Young Offenders Institution. Testimonies of children in custody
clearly show the patterns of exploitation, coercion, deception
and threat but no adult has yet been prosecuted for the trafficking
of children into cannabis cultivation.
19. ACPO guidance in 2007 to Chief
Constables advised of the potential for child trafficking in cannabis
factories and CPS guidance issued in 2007 and updated in
2009 instructs police and prosecutors to refer to the UK
HTC for UK HTC to make enquiries regarding identification related
to trafficking. The guidance states that "where there is
clear evidence that the youth has a credible defence of duress,
the case should be discontinued on evidential grounds." The
guidance also states that in cases where the child is believed
to be a victim of trafficking, and is believed to have been working
under duress, he or she should be protected under child care legislation
and could become a prosecution witness. However, many trafficked
children are not identified as such and even when they are, support
provided is often insufficient. Yet, according to ECPAT UK case
referrals arrests and prosecutions continue.
20. It is worth underlining the vulnerability
of trafficked children in these situations who have no support
from family or friends, often the only contacts they have are
their traffickers. These children will often be unable to speak
or understand English and will not have passports or be aware
of their immigration status.
21. Rather than the criminalisation of children
ECPAT UK would like to see the prosecution of the perpetrators
of trafficking. ECPAT UK is concerned about the low numbers of
convictions for trafficking offences related to children. The
conviction of offenders allows for justice for the victims of
trafficking and provides protection from further contact between
trafficker and victims and acts as a deterrent. To date there
have been 92 convictions for trafficking for sexual exploitation,
and four for trafficking for forced labour. In 2008, 19 people
were convicted of trafficking for sexual exploitation and, of
those, four received suspended sentences. In 2008, there were
four convictions for trafficking for the purpose of forced labour.
The average length of sentence for the offence of trafficking
is 4.69 years and the maximum sentence is 14 years.
(3 Feb 2009: Column 174WH)
22. It is important to note that UK legislation
for trafficking offences included within The Sexual Offences Act
2003 and the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants
etc.) Act, 2004 is inadequate to deal with the many offences
that constitute what we now understand of child trafficking, specifically
the trafficking of children for criminal activity; and the trafficking
of babies and young children who cannot speak for themselves.
The latter is relevant in cases of trafficking for benefit fraud
and illegal adoption.
23. Where child trafficking has been prosecuted
under "Facilitation" offences in immigration legislation
offenders have received sentences significantly lower than those
that have been prosecuted under dedicated trafficking legislation.
As "Facilitation" offences are considered a victimless
crime they do not trigger victim unit processes and victims are
not ordinarily notified of significant events such as the release
of the offender.
24. ECPAT UK is mindful that professionals
dealing with victims of trafficking are often unaware of the Code
of Practice for Victims of Crime, issued the Criminal Justice
System, in 2005. As a result child victims are not being made
aware of their rights and entitlements contained in the Code and
the subsequent complaints procedure to the authorities and the
25. ECPAT UK, along with other children's
organisations, believes that a system of guardianship for separated
children is the only mechanism that will ensure that all actions
and decisions with respect to that child will be made in their
best interests. This is particularly important for trafficked
children. A Guardian would assist the trafficked child navigate
across the boundaries of statutory services, legal advisors and
non-government agencies to support the child in every aspect of
their wellbeing. ECPAT UK research shows that when trafficked
children go missing from local authority care there has been very
little cooperation between agencies, and across local and international
boundaries, to trace children and make contact with their families.
A system of Guardianship is recommended by the Convention and
is also supported by the CRC Committee in their concluding observations.
|This case study is based on a case to which ECPAT has provided advice and support
||Age Assessment case study|
In 2008 a Local Authority age assessed M who was known to have been trafficked for domestic servitude. At the time of the age assessment M had given her date of birth as 16 and the police, UKBA and specialist support agencies had all accepted her age as 16 years.
|During the early stages of the police investigation the Local Authority social workers visited suspects to obtain background data on M. These suspects later provided documents obtained from her country of origin that showed a date of birth as over 18.
|Both suspects have now been arrested on suspicion of trafficking and yet the Local Authority has assessed M to be over 18 on the basis of documents they provided. None of the documents are originals and the Local Authority has stated they have no way of proving if they are fraudulent yet they have used this information to discredit M's own account of her age and thus strengthen the suspects claim that M is not a child. It is known by police and the Local Authority that at least one of the documents was fraudulent. The Local Authority has rejected an independent age assessment provided by a paediatrician showing her age as 16.
This case study is taken from a forthcoming report from the Refugee Council on Cannabis factories and is used with permission
|Criminalisation of children case study|
T was an orphan who had lived in an orphanage since he was about three years old. When he was about eight years old he was taken from the orphanage by a man who fostered him for two years. T did housework and chores for his foster family.
When T was about 10 years old, he was told that he and his carer were to leave Vietnam. They left with a group of others and travelled through many countries, eventually arriving in the UK in the back of a lorry.
|When they arrived, T was left to live on his own for a couple of weeks, after which time his carer returned and took him to a cannabis factory where he was later arrested. T was 17 when he was referred to the Refugee Council. It is not clear exactly how old he was on arrival in the UK, but it appears that several years passed between his leaving Vietnam and arriving in the UK.
Somerset, C (2002) "What the Professionals Know". ECPAT
Somerset, C (2004) "Cause for Concern". ECPAT UK. Back
Beddoe, C (2007) "Missing Out". ECPAT UK. Back
Home Office consultation document "Planning Better Outcomes
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Crawley, Dr Heaven "When is a child not a child? Asylum,
age disputes and the process of age assessment" (Centre for
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Immigration Law Practitioners Association (ILPA). 2007 Back
UK Action plan on tackling Human Trafficking, p9. March 2007 Back
DCSF press notice 22 September 2008, http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/pns/DisplayPN.cgi?pn_id=2008_0209 Back