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Interagency Safeguarding Children ProceduresNottinghamshire Safeguarding Children Board (NSCB)
Nottingham City Safeguarding Children Board (NCSCB)

Trafficked Children

See Joint Local Practice Guidance, Safeguarding Children from Abroad.


In July 2018, Section 4, Protection, the statutory guidance was updated to link to the DfE 2017 Care of unaccompanied and migrant children and child victims of modern slavery – statutory guidance for local authorities. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 is referenced in relation to age assessments.


  1. Definition
  2. Risks
  3. Indicators
  4. Protection
  5. Issues

    Further Information

1. Definition

'Trafficking of persons' means the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation includes, at a minimum, sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs. As defined by article 3 of  the Palermo Protocol 2006.

Trafficking does not only refer to cross border exploitation, but also includes trafficking between towns and cities in the UK.

2. Risks

Children and young people are usually recruited by coercive or subversive means, taken on dangerous journeys with false papers and ID and, at their destination, they are kept in a controlled environment by means of threats or violence. Some children may be escorted by a person stating that they are a relative. Most children are trafficked for financial gain such as domestic servitude, sexual exploitation, benefit fraud, sweat-shop work in catering or agriculture, illegal adoption and many more.

There are strong links between internal trafficking and the grooming of vulnerable children and organised sexual abuse.

Where there is a concern that children are being trafficked within the UK, consideration should be given as to whether the child/ren is being exploited, see Child Sexual Exploitation Procedure.

3. Indicators

The child at the point of entry:

  • Entered illegally without passport or ID papers;
  • Has false papers, goods and money not accounted for;
  • Has no adult with them or to meet them;
  • Is with an adult who refuses to leave them alone;
  • Has no money but a working mobile phone;
  • Is reluctant to give personal details.

The child:

  • Receives unexplained calls;
  • Has money from an unknown source;
  • Shows signs of sexual or physical abuse;
  • Has not been enrolled in a school or with a GP;
  • Seems to do work in various locations.

The child's sponsor:

  • Has previously made multiple visa applications for other children or acted as guarantor; or
  • Is known to have acted as guarantor for others who have not returned to their countries of origin at the expiry of the visas;
  • Sponsors may present as Foster Carers and try to register child at school, with a GP or claim benefits.

Identification of trafficked children may be difficult as they might not show obvious signs of distress or abuse. Some children are unaware that they have been trafficked, while others may actively participate in hiding that they have been trafficked. Any child transported for exploitative reasons is considered to be a trafficking victim, whether or not they have been forced or deceived. This is partly because it is not considered possible for children to give informed consent. Even when a child understands what has happened, they may still appear to submit willingly to what they believe to be the will of their parents or accompanying adults. It is important that these children are protected too.

Possible Indicators of risk of Internal Trafficking could include:

  • The existence of poor family relationships;
  • Experience of childhood sexual abuse;
  • Experience of domestic violence;
  • Low self-esteem;
  • A care background;
  • Parental mental health and addictions; and
  • Personal drug and alcohol use.

Internal trafficking' usually involves the exploitative activities of connected groups of men.

The recruitment of victims is described as following the stages of the grooming process. While initially posing as 'boyfriends', perpetrators may target and approach victims in known areas where young people congregate; such as bus stations, car parks, shopping centres, fast food outlets and taxi ranks etc.

Using flattery, gifts and other forms of coercion, potential victims are treated as 'grown up', while the perception of a friendship is instilled. Often a sexual relationship will develop. This will be paralleled by a process of manipulation through, for example coercion into drug use, enticement to go missing from home for short periods, and subsequent encouragement of family estrangement.

The latter stages of the 'recruitment' process will involve 'boyfriends' playing on a young person's feelings of loyalty, guilt, shame and fear to create a dependency. There may also be threats of violence and subsequent withdrawal of affection.

4. Protection

If there is a risk to the life of the child or a likelihood of serious immediate significant harm, Police or Children's Social Care should act quickly to secure the immediate safety of a child who may have been trafficked. In some cases it may be necessary to ensure either that the child remains in a safe place or is removed to a safe place. This could be on a voluntary basis, or following the making of an Emergency Protection Order (EPO).

Where a child has been trafficked, the Assessment should be carried out immediately as the opportunity to intervene is very narrow. Many trafficked children go missing from care, often within the first 48 hours. Provision may need to be made for the child to be in a safe place before any Assessment takes place and for the possibility that they may not be able to disclose full information about their circumstances immediately.

Where there is concern that a child has been taken abroad against the wishes of their parent or legal guardian an application can be made to the International Child Abduction and Contact Unit to make contact with them or to enforce a Court Order Overseas

During the Assessment, the lead social worker should establish the child's background history including a new or recent photograph, passport and visa details, Home Office papers and proof and details of the Guardian or carer.

The Assessment should take account of any particular psychological or emotional impact of experiences as an unaccompanied or trafficked child, and any consequent need for psychological or mental health support to help the child deal with them.

Care of unaccompanied and migrant children and child victims of modern slavery – statutory guidance for local authorities (2017) provides that where the age of a person is uncertain and there are reasons to believe that they are a child, they are presumed to be a child in order to receive immediate access to assistance, support and protection in accordance with section 51 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. Age assessments should only be carried out where there is significant reason to doubt that the claimant is a child. Age assessments should not be a routine part of a local authority's assessment of unaccompanied or trafficked children. Where age assessments are conducted, they must be Merton Compliant.

With advice from their lawyers, trafficked children may apply to The UK Visas and Immigration for asylum or humanitarian protection. This is because they often face a high level of risk of harm if they are forced to return to their country of origin. If UKBA identify Trafficked children then referral to social care may result in children being considered unaccompanied asylum seeking children under section 20 children act (legally they are seeking refugee status) and the children are then under the same statutory regulations as children in care.

The child should be offered an Independent Visitor and, if they decline, their reasons should be recorded. Any Independent Visitor appointed should have appropriate training and demonstrate an understanding of the needs faced by unaccompanied or trafficked children.

In addition, unaccompanied children should be informed of the availability of the Assisted Voluntary Return Scheme.

The Trafficked Children Toolkit, developed by the London Safeguarding Children Board, is available as a resource for use by all local authorities. The toolkit will help professionals to assess the needs of the child and the continuing risks that they may face, and to refer their case to the Competent Authority.

National Referral Mechanism

In cases where a child displays indicators that they may have been trafficked, whether from overseas or within the UK, social workers or other front line professionals should refer the case to the relevant competent authority by submitting a National Referral Mechanism referral form.

5. Issues

Everyone involved in the care of unaccompanied and trafficked children should be trained to recognise and understand the particular issues likely to be faced by these children.

Children need to be interviewed separately and over time to build up trust and trained Disclosure and Barring Service checked interpreters should be used. Independent legal advice should be arranged and discreet family tracing and contact, if it is safe, should be followed up.

Medical and counselling services should be arranged.

A risk assessment should be made if the child is to be repatriated.