Victims of child trafficking are hidden and isolated from the usual services and community who may identify and support them.
Difficulties in identifying victims of trafficking
Why children may find it hard to disclose
Indicators a child may have been trafficked
Using these indicators
What to do if you believe a child has been trafficked
Further help and information
Identifying if a child has been trafficked is not easy. Trafficked children are often hidden, they may be scared or they may not even realise they have been a victim of trafficking.
Potential victims of trafficking may not be forthcoming with information and may tell their stories with obvious errors and inconsistencies.
Some traffickers compose stories for victims to learn in case they are approached by the authorities which can lead to stories with errors or a lack of reality.
Victims' early accounts may also be affected by the impact of trauma. In particular, victims may experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which can result in symptoms of hostility, aggression, difficulty in recalling details or entire episodes and difficulty concentrating.
Many victims may not speak English well or may have other communication difficulties. Qualified interpreters should be used to communicate with the child. Family members, friends or members of the public should not be used to interpret.
Individuals may not see themselves as victims or may not be willing to disclose they are a victim due to:
All four nations in the United Kingdom, as well as international organisations such as the United Nations, publish guidance to help professionals identify a child who may have been trafficked.
In England, the government guidance Safeguarding children who may have been trafficked lists possible indicators that a child may have been trafficked into the UK or is under the control of a trafficker or receiving adult.
The guidance covers indicators at the point of entry to the UK relating to both the child and the accompanying adult or sponsor; indicators whilst the child is resident in the UK; and indicators a child may have been internally trafficked within the UK.
See pages 19-21 of: HM Government (2011) Safeguarding children who may have been trafficked: practice guidance (PDF). London: Department for Education (DfE).
In Northern Ireland the guidance Working arrangements for the welfare and safeguarding of child victims of human trafficking refers to professionals to the United Nation's list of Human trafficking indicators.
See pages A4-A5 of: Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) and Police Service for Northern Ireland (PSNI) (2011) Working arrangements for the welfare and safeguarding of child victims of human trafficking (PDF). Belfast: Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS).
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) () Human trafficking indicators (PDF). [Geneva]: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
The Scottish Government has adapted England's guidance for application in Scotland and the list of indictors covers the same points as Safeguarding children who may have been trafficked.
See pages 28-31 of: Scottish Government () Safeguarding children in Scotland who may have been trafficked (PDF). [Edinburgh]: Scottish Government.
The All Wales Child Protection Procedures Review Group, on behalf of the Welsh Government, has published All Wales practice guidance on child trafficking which includes recognition information with a list of indicators and factors.
See pages 33-35 of: All Wales Child Protection Procedures Review Group (2011) All Wales practice guidance for safeguarding children who may have been trafficked (PDF) . [Cardiff]: All Wales Child Protection Procedures Review Group.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime's publication, Human trafficking indicators, provides lists of general indicators and more specific indicators for children, domestic servitude, sexual exploitation, labour exploitation and begging and petty crime.
See: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) () Human trafficking indicators (PDF). [Geneva]: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
The International Labour Organization's Operational indicators of trafficking in human beings, present specific indicators for forced labour and sexual exploitation which are categorised into strong, medium and weak indicators of trafficking and broken down for adult and child cases.
See: International Labour Organization (ILO) (2009) Operational indicators of trafficking in human beings (PDF). Geneva: International Labour Organization (ILO).
The indicators listed in these publications are not exhaustive or definitive lists but they do highlight the more common indicators which can assist frontline staff in making a primary assessment of whether a child is a potential victim of trafficking.
It is not the case that a set number of indicators mean definitively that a child is a victim of trafficking. One or a combination of factors could suggest a person is a potential victim, so each case should be considered on its own merits.
All agencies and organisations who find themselves with grounds for concern that a child may be a victim of human trafficking have a responsibility for ensuring the safeguarding needs of the child are assessed and addressed and for reporting their trafficking concerns for referral into the National Referral Mechanism (NRM).
Through the NRM a trained specialist will then investigate the matter further to determine if the child is a victim of trafficking.
For more information please see the NSPCC factsheet on the National Referral Mechanism (NRM).
If you think a child is in immediate danger, contact the police on 999, or call the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000, without delay.
Confronting the alleged trafficker 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 suspect a child or young person has been trafficked or someone is involved in child trafficking:
Identifying children and young people sexually exploited through street grooming
Factsheet on children and young people who are most vulnerable to sexual exploitation and the signs difficulties in identifying victims.
Child sexual exploitation homepage
Our pages covering guidance, research and practice on identification and protection of children or young people who are being sexually exploited.
Search the NSPCC Library Online for publications on identifying victims of child trafficking.
Safeguarding trafficked children guidance, toolkit and monitoring report
Resources from the London Safeguarding Children Board.