19.9 Issues to Consider when Working with Trafficked Children
Last updated 23/09/2021
The following services are likely to be necessary to address the child’s needs:
- Appropriately trained and DBS checked independent interpreters;
- Child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS);
- Independent legal advice;
- Medical services;
- Sexual health services;
- Family tracing and contact (unless it is not consistent with their welfare); and
- If appropriate, repatriation.
They will also need:
- Professionals to be informed and competent in matters relating to trafficking and exploitation;
- Someone to spend time with them to build up a level of trust;
- To be interviewed separately. Children will usually stick to their account and not speak until they feel comfortable;
- A safe placement - ‘safe accommodation’ if they are victims of an organised trafficking operation; the placement should be away from the locality where the child was recovered in order to minimise the risk to the child and reduce the risk that the child may go missing.
- Their whereabouts to be kept confidential;
- Legal advice about their rights and immigration status. Professionals should make every effort to assist children to benefit from independent legal advice from a solicitor with experience in child trafficking;
- Discretion and caution to be used in tracing their families;
- A risk assessment to be made of the danger the child will face if he or she is repatriated; and
- Where appropriate, accommodation under section 20 of the children act 1989 or on application for an interim care order.
- Consider interviewing children in school as they may feel more able to talk;
- Consider talking to children using the phone, e-mail, text;
- Ensure that carers are not in the proximity; and
- Ensure that interpreters are agency approved and are DBS checked.
Assessing the age of a victim of trafficking can be necessary because a child may have documents which are fake, or belong to another child, in order to make them appear younger or older. Children are groomed (coerced) to lie about their age by the adults trafficking and exploiting them. Accordingly, information about a child provided by an accompanying adult / carer may not be accurate.
When the age of the victim is uncertain and there are reasons to believe that they are a child, either because the victim has stated they are under 18 years of age or there is documentation or information from statutory or specialist agencies that have raised concerns that they may be under 18, then s/he should be presumed to be a child and be provided with full protection as a child victim of trafficking.
Where there is concern that a child may have been trafficked and an age dispute arises, the child should be given the benefit of the doubt as to their age until his/her age is verified. This is in accordance with the Council of Europe Convention.
In circumstances where it is determined that a young victim of trafficking is an adult, professionals must follow their local Protection of Vulnerable Adults (POVA) procedure, and also contact the UKHTC.
See Interview as part of section 47 enquiries for guidance which is also relevant for interviewing children and their families / carers outside the s47 process.
Supporting child witnesses
Assessing the willingness and capacity of a child victim to support criminal proceedings at the earliest stage is critical to ensure their welfare and that the most appropriate measures are in place to provide the support they may need. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child requires that authorities should give primary consideration to the best interests of the child.
One of the key points to recognise is that the prosecution process itself, especially the trial, can be daunting and stressful for children. There are risks of re-traumatising the child or causing the child unnecessary worry and distress. While the child may not be in any danger as a witness, he/she will still be likely to suffer from stress and worry at the thought of having to give evidence in court. It is unlikely to be possible to eliminate this altogether, but steps should be taken to reduce it to a minimum.
This also applies to the process of gathering information that might support care proceedings. Like victims of domestic abuse, the child is likely to fear reprisal from their traffickers and/or the adults with whom he or she was living in the UK if they co-operate with LA Children’s Social Care or the police
For children trafficked from abroad, an additional level of anxiety may exist because of fear of reprisals against their family in their home country. They may also fear being deported, having entered the UK illegally. Trafficked children may also have been forced to commit criminal offences while they are in a coerced situation.
The recently revised Home Office Guidance “Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings: Guidance for Vulnerable or Intimidated Witnesses, including Children” provides detailed recommended procedure for interviewing child witnesses. It considers planning interviews, decisions about whether the interview should be video recorded or a statement taken, preparing the witness for court and subsequent court appearances, pre-trial therapy and special measures.
Children who might agree to testify in a criminal case, fear that they will be discredited in court because they were coerced into lying on their visa applications or immigration papers. No child should be coerced into testifying in court against a trafficker.
Returning trafficked children to their country of origin [safe returns]
In many cases, and with advice from their lawyers, trafficked children apply to the UKBA for asylum or for humanitarian protection. This is often because of the high risk they face of coming to harm if they are forced to return to their countries of origin. All such claims must be carefully considered.
Among the factors to consider if the child is deported is the risk of him or her being re-trafficked with the possibility of further exploitation and abuse. When considering the child’s application it will be important for the social worker to gather information about the child’s family, community and general conditions in the country of origin.
Local authorities have a duty of care towards children who are being returned, and this must include adequate social work checks and assessments in the country of origin to ensure that the child will be safeguarded upon their return. It is crucial that these checks are thorough and adequately address the risk of re-trafficking, taking account of specific factors relevant to the child – whether their town or village is known for trafficking children, for example, and the likelihood of the child’s family allowing them to be re-trafficked.
If the child does not qualify for asylum or humanitarian protection, and adequate reception arrangements are in place in the country of origin, the child will usually have to return. The process of returning the child should be handled sensitively and will require close co-operation between the UKBA and the child’s social worker. The child’s social worker should ensure that the local social services department in the country of origin have been notified of the child’s return.
It is important that appropriate steps are taken to minimise the possibility of the child going missing once a decision to return him or her to their country of origin has been made. Equally, the social worker may be best placed to reconcile the child to being returned, and in helping the child access the assistance with reintegration which is available through close co-operation with the social services department in the country of origin (see below)
Most countries have some form of reintegration support for victims of trafficking and separated children, taking account of education, health, accommodation and psychological support, details of which can be accessed through Children and Families Across Borders (CFAB, www.cfab.uk.net). CFAB may also be able to assist with social work checks and assessments in the child’s country of origin - see section 2c of the Trafficked Children Toolkit for more information and contact details.
Potential prosecution of traffickers
Whether an alleged trafficker is being prosecuted may be of relevance but the decision to identify a victim (either preliminary or conclusively) is not dependent on a conviction of the perpetrators, or on whether or not the victim cooperates in the criminal proceedings.
Decision makers need to be aware that all deliberations will be subject to rules of disclosure in any subsequent prosecution for trafficking. Where an individual is being treated by the police as a potential witness, regardless of whether they are likely to be found to be victims or not, case owners should ensure lines of communication with the Senior Investigating Officer are kept open. The decision of whether someone is a victim is for the Competent Authority to make, but officers must be alert to the impact that the decision may have on the victim and other stakeholders in the criminal justice process.