Legislation and guidance
All four governments in the UK publish guidance to help professionals identify and respond to a child who may have been trafficked.
The Home Office has published guidance on how to identify and support victims of modern slavery. The guidance is statutory in England and Wales and non-statutory in Northern Ireland and Scotland (Home Office, 2021c).
The Modern slavery awareness and victim identification guidance (PDF) (Home Office, 2017) is non-statutory guidance to help those in the public sector across the UK recognise and respond to modern slavery.
The Home Office has published interim guidance for new Independent Child Trafficking Guardians (ICTGs) in England and Wales and for those who work at ICTG sites across the UK. The guidance is designed to help support ICTGs and those who work with ICTGs identify their roles and responsibilities (Home Office, 2021b).
Practice principles, commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE), have been published by The Tackling Child Exploitation (TCE) Support Programme. The principles are for all professionals working with children around effective partnership working when responding to child exploitation and extra-familial harm (TCE Support Programme, 2023).
In England, Care of unaccompanied migrant children and child victims of modern slavery (PDF) (Department for Education, 2017) is statutory guidance for local authorities and professionals. Safeguarding children who may have been trafficked (PDF) (Department for Education and Home Office, 2011) is supplementary, non-statutory guidance meant to be used alongside Working together to safeguard children (Department for Education, 2023), which is statutory.
In Northern Ireland, Working arrangements for the welfare and safeguarding of child victims of human trafficking (PDF) (Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, 2011) sets out the actions to be taken by the Police Service Northern Ireland (PSNI) and Health and Social Care Trusts (HSCT) in relation to lone or unaccompanied children, children in the care of an unsuitable adult and children who are recovered during police operations where there is reasonable cause to believe that the child may the victim of trafficking.
The Department of Justice in Northern Ireland has published a modern slavery and human trafficking strategy for 2021-22. The annual strategy is designed to raise awareness of modern slavery offences and help reduce the number of offences (Department of Justice, 2021).
In Scotland, Safeguarding children in Scotland who may have been trafficked (PDF) (Scottish Government, 2009) and Inter-agency guidance for child trafficking (PDF) (Scottish Government, 2013) provide agencies and professionals with guidance to ensure that they can identify, assess and support the needs of children who may have been trafficked.
In Wales, the All Wales Practice Guide: Safeguarding children who may be trafficked helps practitioners from all agencies effectively safeguard children who have been, or are at risk of being, trafficked (Wales Safeguarding Procedures Project Board, 2020).
Across the UK, legislation highlights the responsibility of those in the education, community and care sectors to safeguard children from trafficking.
Protecting potential victims of child trafficking
Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 sets out a duty in all four UK nations to safeguard and promote the welfare of children who come to the UK.
In England and Wales, the Trafficking People for Exploitation Regulations 2013 makes provision to:
- protect trafficked children from criminal investigations
- ensure trafficked children are eligible for "special measures" to assist and protect witnesses, for example making sure interviews are carried out by specially trained professionals in specially designed premises.
Part 5 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 also includes measures to protect potential victims of child trafficking in criminal proceedings.
In Northern Ireland, Section 21 of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2015 offers protection to potential victims of child trafficking in criminal investigations and gives trafficked children and young people up to the age of 21 the right to an independent legal guardian. Under Section 12 of the Act, the Department of Justice is required to publish an annual modern slavery and human trafficking strategy.
In Scotland, Part 2 of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015 includes protection for trafficked children under the age of 18 in criminal proceedings and provides for an independent child trafficking guardian to assist, support and represent child victims.
- Sections 109-110 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 allow a UK national to be prosecuted for committing the crime of trafficking in any country of the world. It also criminalises trafficking within the UK for non-sexual exploitation.
Measures to prevent trafficking
England and Wales
The Modern Slavery Act 2015 sets out measures to prevent slavery and human trafficking.
- Part 1 clarifies the existing offences of slavery and human trafficking. The maximum penalty for such offences is life imprisonment.
- Part 2 permits a chief officer of police, immigration officers or the National Crime Agency to make a request to prevent foreign travel of an individual when there’s a risk they may commit a slavery or human trafficking offence, to protect potential victims and prevent further offences.
- Part 3 provides for maritime enforcement powers - including ships in England and Wales waters, foreign waters and international waters. This part of the Act also applies in Northern Ireland and Scotland.
- Part 4 establishes the office and functions of the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner, to encourage good practice in:
- the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of slavery and human trafficking offences
- the identification of victims of those offences.
This part of the Act also applies in Northern Ireland and Scotland.
- Part 5 includes measures to protect potential victims of child trafficking in criminal proceedings
- Part 6 requires certain businesses to disclose the activities they are undertaking to eliminate slavery and trafficking from their supply chains and their own business.
The Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2015 makes provision about human trafficking, slavery and other forms of exploitation, including measures to prevent and combat exploitation and provide support for victims.
- Part 1 describes the offences of slavery and human trafficking.
- Part 2 describes exploitation offences not included in part 1 - including forced marriage.
- Part 3 provides for assistance and support for victims of trafficking.
- Part 4 provides protection for slavery and trafficking victims in criminal investigations and proceedings.
The Act includes provision for a possible sentence of life imprisonment for those convicted of human trafficking or slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour.
Parts 3 and 4 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 apply to Northern Ireland.
The Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act 2015 makes provisions about human trafficking and slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour, including provisions about offences and sentencing and victim support.
- Part 1 describes the offences of human trafficking.
- Part 2 outlines protection for child trafficking victims in criminal proceedings.
- Part 3 gives police and courts in Scotland the power to confiscate and seize property used for human trafficking.
- Part 4 covers trafficking exploitation prevention and risk orders – including prohibiting foreign travel by an individual seen as being at risk of committing an offence of trafficking.
- Part 5 outlines the Scottish Ministers’ task to prepare and regularly review a trafficking and exploitation strategy.
The Act includes provision for a possible sentence of life imprisonment for those convicted of human trafficking, servitude and forced or compulsory labour.
Parts 3 and 4 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 apply to Scotland.
International policy and guidance
The Protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children (United Nations Human Rights Office, 2000) was ratified by the UK government in 2006. It requires each nation to establish comprehensive domestic criminal offences, policies, programmes and other measures to:
- prevent trafficking
- ensure victims are protected and provided with assistance
- support international cooperation in investigating and prosecuting human trafficking cases
- punish traffickers.
The Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings (HM Government, 2012) is an international treaty focused on protecting victims of trafficking, safeguarding their rights, preventing trafficking and prosecuting traffickers. It was ratified by the UK in 2008 and came into force in 2009.
In 2011, the UK opted into Directive 2011/36/EU on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims.
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