Last updated 14/07/2021
This section tells you about child victims of modern slavery, and how to deal with cases of potential child victims.
Determining whether a child is a victim of modern slavery
To determine whether a child is a victim of modern slavery, Competent Authority staff need knowledge and understanding about child victims of modern slavery, as characteristics and issues may be different to adult victims.
In cases of potential child victims, you must remember that it is not possible for a child to give informed consent, so you do not need to consider the means used for the exploitation – whether they were forced, coerced or deceived etc. You must also keep in mind the child’s:
- added vulnerability
- developmental stage
- possible grooming by the perpetrator
No child’s case should be considered without contacting individuals who specialise in children from a Local Authority.
Like victims of other forms of child abuse, a child who is a victim of modern slavery will describe the behaviour that has to be assessed against indicators of child abuse and modern slavery. Children may not be familiar with the words ‘slavery’ or ‘trafficking’ or be able to label their experience as abuse.
Where an adult is referred to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) on the basis of modern slavery that took place when they were a child, see Potential child victims of modern slavery who are now adults.
Duty to refer child victims to the Local Authority
Modern slavery is child abuse and requires a child protection response.
Potential victims under 18 years of age should be immediately referred to the relevant Local Authority children’s services (or the Health and Social Care Trust Children’s Services in Northern Ireland) by the Competent Authority if they haven’t been referred already by the first responder.
The relevant police force must be informed and involved, so you should discuss this with the Local Authority to be clear who will take responsibility for involving the police.
Identifying potential child victims of trafficking
A number of children arrive in the UK accompanied by adults who are either not related to them or in circumstances which raise child protection concerns, for example, there may be:
- no evidence of parental permission for the child to travel to the UK or stay with the adult
- little or no evidence of any pre-existing relationship with the adult or even an absence of any knowledge of the accompanying adult
- evidence of unsatisfactory accommodation arranged in the UK
These irregularities may be the only indication that the child could be a victim of trafficking and/or modern slavery. As noted in the guide to identification of possible victims of trafficking (Koordineringsenheten for Ofre for Menneskehaneel, Norway, November 2008), children who are in a trafficking situation are often very reluctant to give information, and often relate their experiences in an inconsistent way or with obvious errors. More often than not this will be because their stories are made up by their trafficker or modern slavery facilitator.
Children under 18 travelling unaccompanied by adults or with an adult who is not their parent should not be assumed to be victims of modern slavery just based on this factor alone, as their situation may be perfectly legitimate or unrelated to modern slavery. If a child referral is made where no indicators are present the Competent Authority should ask frontline staff to make additional enquiries as appropriate, which might establish whether or not any indicators of modern slavery are present.
Consent of child victims
As explained above, any child who is recruited, transported, transferred, harboured or received for the purposes of exploitation, or is directed to perform labour is considered to be a potential victim of modern slavery, whether or not they have been forced or deceived. This is because it is not considered possible for children to give informed consent.
Staff in the Competent Authority must consider any child who has been recruited, transported, transferred, harboured or received for the purpose of exploitation, as a victim of trafficking and/or modern slavery, whether or not they have been forced or deceived.
Where an adult was trafficked or a victim of modern slavery as a child, but only referred to the NRM in adulthood, they will be assessed against the child criteria for the purposes of determining whether they a victim of trafficking/modern slavery but as they are an adult at the time of the referral, they must consent to their case being referred to the NRM.
Financial gain involving child victims
Most children are trafficked for financial gain. This can include payment from or to the child’s parents. In most cases, the trafficker also receives payment from those wanting to exploit the child once in the UK.
Traffickers specifically target impoverished communities to exploit their vulnerability. Poor and displaced families may hand over care of their children to traffickers who promise to provide them with a source of income, education or skills training, but ultimately exploit them.
Parents and relatives may also be involved in the exploitation of the child. The children are likely to be very loyal to their parents or carers so you must not expect them, of their own initiative, to seek protection against such people. For more information, see the UNHCR Handbook for the protection of internally displaced persons.
Children trafficked into the country may be registered at a school for a term or longer, before being moved to another part of the UK or abroad. This pattern of registration and de-registration may be an indicator that a child has been trafficked. It has been identified as a particular concern in schools situated near ports of entry, but you must be alert to this possibility in all schools.
However, you must always bear in mind not all children who go missing from education have been victims of trafficking. For example, there may be instances of children from communities that move around – Gypsy, Roma, traveller or migrant families – who collectively go missing from school. For more information, see:
Child victims who claim asylum
Some children who are under the control of a trafficker may say they are unaccompanied when claiming asylum. They might have entered the UK with a trafficker who may or may not be a family member. In such cases the trafficker may have told the child that by doing so they will be granted permission to stay in the UK and be entitled to claim welfare benefits.
Potential child victims of modern slavery who are now adults
In some cases, a potential victim of modern slavery may have been a victim as a child, but only identified and referred into the NRM after reaching adulthood. In these circumstances, the Competent Authority should treat the potential victim as having been a child at the time of the modern slavery incident and follow the guidance covering children within the NRM decision making process. This means assessing the case as if they were a child to make a reasonable grounds and conclusive grounds decision.
However an adult who enters the NRM who may have been a victim as a child would be treated as an adult for the purposes of support, services and safeguarding, for the purposes of requiring consent to enter the NRM and for immigration leave purposes.
In some cases a person referred to the NRM may claim to be a child but it is suspected that they are an adult.
It is sometimes difficult to establish the age of a potential child trafficking or modern slavery victim where there is a dispute over age.
In such cases the Competent Authority and other agencies within the NRM will continue to treat the individual as a child until age is established. However, whether an individual is a child or an adult must be established before the Competent Authority reaches its conclusive grounds decision. The first responder should have commissioned an age assessment where appropriate. The Competent Authority should check whether this has been commissioned.
There is guidance on assessing the age of a potential child modern slavery victim on Horizon.
Where an age assessment has been conducted by the Local Authority and has determined that the potential victim is an adult, the Competent Authority must seek consent from the potential victim to remain in the NRM before the case is progressed any further.
It may be the case that the potential victim challenges the outcome of an age assessment. The Competent Authority must accept the determination of the Local Authority until such time as any challenge is concluded.
Further guidance on child victims
There is information on the Competent Authority’s statutory duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and on interviewing children on Horizon.
There is further guidance available for first responders dealing with child cases.
The Child Trafficking Advice Centre (CTAC), part of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), operate a child trafficking advice and information line which offers direct assistance to professionals dealing with children who show signs of having been trafficked.
They have a national remit and are staffed by qualified social workers and a police liaison officer. They can offer staff in the Competent Authority advice on how to address the child’s needs and your statutory duties in regard to safeguarding children from harm. It also offers guidance by telephone and a case consultancy service by appointment in addition to free training on child trafficking. The advice line number is 0808 800 5000.