What to look out for and what to do if you think a child is being trafficked
Child trafficking is a form of child abuse where children are recruited and moved to be exploited, forced to work or sold.
Traffickers trick, force or persuade children to leave their homes and then move them to another location.
Trafficked children are often controlled with violence and threats and may be kept captive, resulting in long lasting and devastating effects on their mental and physical health.
It is not easy to identify trafficked children, but you may notice unusual behaviour or events that just don’t add up. If you do, you can get some advice from our helpline on 0808 800 5000.
Why child trafficking happens
The main motivation for child trafficking is money. Global profits are estimated to be up to US $32 billion a year (HM Government, 2012).
Children are trafficked for:
- sexual exploitation, including prostitution
- benefit or credit card fraud
- forced marriage
- criminal activity, e.g. pickpocketing, begging or in the drugs trade
- exploitative factory or agricultural work
- domestic work, such as cleaning, childcare and other chores.
Children at risk of trafficking
Both boys and girls are victims of trafficking. Trafficked children may be from the UK or have been moved from another country.
Poverty, war or discrimination can put children more at risk of trafficking. Traffickers may promise children education or respectable work, or persuade parents that their child can have a better future in another place.
Watch our video: a child's experience of trafficking
A 15-year-old girl tells us her story and experience of child trafficking through our short video animation "Losing control: my story is real".
What to look out for: the signs of child trafficking
It can be very difficult to identify a child who has been trafficked, as they are deliberately hidden and isolated.
They may be scared, or they may not realise that they are a victim or are being abused.
Behavioural signs of child trafficking
You may notice some unusual behaviour, such as a child who:
- is guarded and reluctant to talk
- performs excessive household chores
- rarely leaves their house
- displays sexualised behaviour inappropriate for their age
- gets into and out of cars with adults they don't know
- is constantly out late or away overnight
- receives unexplained phone calls enquiring about him or her
- does not appear to be in school
- is unclear about where in the UK they are living or how they got there.
Trafficked children are likely to be frightened, confused and:
- scared of their abusers
- frightened of being returned to their own country
- ashamed about what has happened to them
- afraid of, or not trust, adults who are trying to help them.
Physical symptoms of child trafficking
Trafficked children may suffer physical symptoms including:
- injuries due to physical abuse
- health problems caused by poor working conditions
- addiction to drugs or alcohol
- sexually transmitted infections or HIV
- multiple pregnancies.
Signs that an adult may be trafficking children
An adult who is trafficking or exploiting children may:
- have multiple visa applications for different children
- act as a guarantor for multiple visa applications for children
- travel with different children who they are not related to or responsible for
- insist on remaining with the child at all times
- abandon a child or claim not to know a child they were previously with.
What you should do
If you suspect a child may have been trafficked, get professional advice.
DO: discuss your concerns with the NSPCC, contact your local police or children's services.
DON'T: confront the alleged trafficker. It may give them the opportunity to silence, confuse or threaten the child about speaking out about the abuse. It may also place the child in danger.
If you think a child is in immediate danger, contact the police on 999 or call the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000, without delay.
Further advice and support
Professionals can access research, statistics and guidance on NSPCC inform as well as contact details for the Child Trafficking Advice Centre (CTAC), a specialist service providing information and advice to professionals.
Worried about a child?
Don’t wait until you’re certain. Contact our trained helpline counsellors for 24/7 help, advice and support.
Are you a child?
Do you need to talk? Call ChildLine on 0800 1111 or visit us online.
Statistics, research, policy and guidance about child trafficking for professionals.
Child Trafficking Advice Centre
If you work with a child who may have been trafficked into the UK, contact CTAC for specialist advice and information on 0808 800 500.