Child trafficking Legislation, policy and guidance

Child trafficking is a complex global crime requiring international and local action to combat it. The hidden nature of child trafficking makes it difficult to identify victims, grasp the scale of the problem and to develop effective responses.

Long term prevention of child trafficking requires:

  • addressing global socio-economic inequality
  • improving public and professional understanding and awareness of trafficking
  • making trafficking an unprofitable business
  • and reducing the demand for trafficked children.

There is no single piece of legislation on child trafficking in the UK – a review found 25 pieces of laws that cover for trafficking offences (Jones, 2012).

Child trafficking is child abuse and requires a child protection response. For information about child protection legislation and guidance read about child protection in the UK.

Child trafficking is also a crime and an abuse of human rights. Below is a selection of key pieces of legislation from each of the 4 UK nations and internationally which deal directly with child trafficking.

Legislation

Sexual Offences Act 2003
Sections 57-60 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 created the offence of trafficking into, within or out of the UK for sexual exploitation.

Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc) Act 2004
Section 4 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004 created the offence of trafficking for forms of non-sexual exploitation.

Coroners and Justice Act 2009
Section 71 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 created the offences of holding another person in slavery or servitude or requiring them to perform forced or compulsory labour without the need to prove trafficking.

Modern Slavery Act 2015

Received Royal Assent in March 2015. The Act consolidates current offences relating to trafficking and slavery.

Part 1 consolidates and clarifies the existing offences of slavery and human trafficking whilst increasing the maximum penalty for such offences. Any person found guilty of offences of slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour or offences of human trafficking is liable to life imprisonment.

Part 2 provides for two new civil preventative orders, the Slavery and Trafficking Prevention Order and the Slavery and Trafficking Risk Order. A chief officer of police, immigration officers or the National Crime Agency can make a request to prevent foreign travel, protect potential victims and prevent further offences.

Part 3 provides for new maritime enforcement powers.

Part 4 establishes the office of the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner and sets out the functions of the Commissioner to encourage good practice in investigation and victim care.

Part 5 introduces a number of measures focussed on supporting and protecting victims, including a statutory defence for slavery or trafficking victims and special measures for witnesses in criminal proceedings. Measures include: independent child trafficking advocates; non-prosecution of victims compelled to commit crimes; and presumption that a victim is under 18 until appropriate age assessments have been carried out.

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.

Part 7 requires the Secretary of State to publish a paper on the role of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority.

View the Modern Slavery Act 2015

Policy

National Referral Mechanism (NRM)

The NRM is a framework for identifying victims of human trafficking and ensuring they receive appropriate care. It was set up in 2009 as part of the UK's implementation of the Council of Europe Convention.

The NRM is currently being reviewed and there is a pilot being carried out.

Read more about the National Referral Mechanism (NRM).

Human trafficking: the government’s strategy

This strategy, published in 2011, focuses on 4 areas to combat trafficking:

  1. improving victim identification and care arrangements
  2. enhancing the ability to act early before a trafficking victim reaches the UK through overseas agencies, focusing on priority countries, diplomatic engagement, disruption, joint operations, educating potential victims, sharing information and resources with other destination countries
  3. smarter action at the border through improving intelligence gathering and sharing, disruption at the point of visa application and at the border and utilising UK border staff in other countries
  4. better co-ordination of law enforcement efforts in the UK improving tasking and coordination to disrupt traffickers, identifying criminals, seizing the proceeds of crime and tackling demand.

The strategy includes an emphasis on raising awareness of child trafficking and ensuring child victims are dealt with from a safeguarding perspective instead of being unnecessarily criminalised.

Areas specifically identified to combat child trafficking include:

  • ensuring trafficked children involved in criminal activity are treated as victims in need of child protection
  • tackling the problem of children missing from care
  • maintaining vigilance for visa applications for children and non-UK children entering the country
  • working with international partners.

Download Human trafficking: the government's strategy (PDF)
(Home Office, 2011)

Crown Prosecution Service guidance on human trafficking, smuggling and slavery

(Crown Prosecution Service, 2013)

Practical and legal guidance for prosecutors in England and Wales dealing with cases of human trafficking and smuggling. It sets out the definition of trafficking.

It presents sentencing guidelines for each statutory offence including relevant case law. Includes sections on Achieving Best Evidence (ABE), special measures, child age disputes, internal trafficking and cases where a potential victim has been charged with offences.

The guidance highlights that children and young people charged with cultivation of cannabis plants or pickpocketing may be victims of trafficking and have committed the offences by being exploited by their traffickers or others controlling them.

View Human trafficking, smuggling and slavery

Guidance

Safeguarding children who may have been trafficked

Provides good practice guidance for agencies in England that come into contact with children who may have been trafficked, including sections on:

  • the role of Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs)
  • the roles of specific agencies and services, and the National Referral Mechanism (read our factsheet on the National Referral Mechanism).

It is supplementary to, and should be used in conjunction with, the government's statutory guidance: 'Working together to safeguard children' (HM Government, 2013). 

Download Safeguarding children who may have been trafficked (PDF)
(HM Government, 2011)

London safeguarding trafficked children guidance

Looks at the problem of child trafficking and provides guidance on:

  • identifying trafficked and exploited children
  • children at risk
  • use of the Common Assessment Framework (CAF)
  • information sharing
  • the role of local safeguarding boards.

It’s written by the London Safeguarding Children Board for social workers, teachers, police, health workers and other professionals who may come into contact with suspected victims of trafficking. The guidelines have been piloted in a number of local authorities across London. 

A toolkit is also available London safeguarding trafficked children toolkit 2011 (PDF).

Download London safeguarding trafficked children guidance (PDF)
(London Safeguarding Children Board, 2011)

Legislation

Sexual Offences Act 2003
Sections 57-60 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 created the offence of trafficking into, within or out of the UK for sexual exploitation.

Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc) Act 2004
Section 4 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004 created the offence of trafficking for forms of non-sexual exploitation.

Coroners and Justice Act 2009
Section 71 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 created the offences of holding another person in slavery or servitude or requiring them to perform forced or compulsory labour without the need to prove trafficking.


Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Further Provisions and Support for Victims) Act 2015

Section 21 of the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Further Provisions and Support for Victims) Act 2015 gives trafficked children the right to an independent legal guardian up to the age of 21. The provision comes into operation in November 2015, making Northern Ireland the first country in the UK to introduce such a measure.

Policy

National Referral Mechanism (NRM)

The NRM is a framework for identifying victims of human trafficking and ensuring they receive appropriate care. It was set up in 2009 as part of the UK's implementation of the Council of Europe Convention.

The NRM is currently being reviewed and there is a pilot being carried out.

Read more about the National Referral Mechanism (NRM).

Human trafficking: the government’s strategy

This strategy, published in 2011, focuses on 4 areas to combat trafficking:

  1. improving victim identification and care arrangements
  2. enhancing the ability to act early before a trafficking victim reaches the UK through overseas agencies, focusing on priority countries, diplomatic engagement, disruption, joint operations, educating potential victims, sharing information and resources with other destination countries
  3. smarter action at the border through improving intelligence gathering and sharing, disruption at the point of visa application and at the border and utilising UK border staff in other countries
  4. better co-ordination of law enforcement efforts in the UK improving tasking and coordination to disrupt traffickers, identifying criminals, seizing the proceeds of crime and tackling demand.

The strategy includes an emphasis on raising awareness of child trafficking and ensuring child victims are dealt with from a safeguarding perspective instead of being unnecessarily criminalised.

Areas specifically identified to combat child trafficking include:

  • ensuring trafficked children involved in criminal activity are treated as victims in need of child protection
  • tackling the problem of children missing from care
  • maintaining vigilance for visa applications for children and non-UK children entering the country
  • working with international partners.

Download Human trafficking: the government's strategy (PDF)
(Home Office, 2011)

Guidance

Working arrangements for the welfare and safeguarding of child victims of human trafficking

(Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety and the Police Service for Northern Ireland, 2011)

Guidance on child trafficking for practitioners in social care, education, immigration, health and law enforcement in Northern Ireland. The report details the roles of different agencies, procedures for professionals, and also looks at the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) and decision-making process.

View Working arrangements for the welfare and safeguarding of child victims of human trafficking

Legislation

Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003
Section 22 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003 created offences of trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation into, out of and within the UK.

Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010
- section 46
Section 46 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 amended the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004 and the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003. The amendments extend the offence of trafficking to include facilitating "entry into" the UK as well as "arrival in" and to victims who have not been trafficked into the UK (trafficking within the UK). It also expanded provisions to include exploitation involving the removal of body parts and created the offence of trafficking persons into, within or out of a country other than the UK regardless of where the exploitation is to occur.

- section 47
Section 47 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 created a statutory offence of holding someone in slavery or servitude, or requiring a person to perform forced or compulsory labour.

- section 88
Section 88 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 amended the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 extending the definition of a vulnerable witness to anyone under the age of 18 years for trafficking cases.

- section 99
Section 99 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 amended the Antisocial Behaviour etc. (Scotland) Act 2004 to extend the closure of premises to those associated with human exploitation offences.

Policy

National Referral Mechanism (NRM)

The NRM is a framework for identifying victims of human trafficking and ensuring they receive appropriate care. It was set up in 2009 as part of the UK's implementation of the Council of Europe Convention.

The NRM is currently being reviewed and there is a pilot being carried out.

Read more about the National Referral Mechanism (NRM).

Human trafficking: the government’s strategy

This strategy, published in 2011, focuses on 4 areas to combat trafficking:

  1. improving victim identification and care arrangements
  2. enhancing the ability to act early before a trafficking victim reaches the UK through overseas agencies, focusing on priority countries, diplomatic engagement, disruption, joint operations, educating potential victims, sharing information and resources with other destination countries
  3. smarter action at the border through improving intelligence gathering and sharing, disruption at the point of visa application and at the border and utilising UK border staff in other countries
  4. better co-ordination of law enforcement efforts in the UK improving tasking and coordination to disrupt traffickers, identifying criminals, seizing the proceeds of crime and tackling demand.

The strategy includes an emphasis on raising awareness of child trafficking and ensuring child victims are dealt with from a safeguarding perspective instead of being unnecessarily criminalised.

Areas specifically identified to combat child trafficking include:

  • ensuring trafficked children involved in criminal activity are treated as victims in need of child protection
  • tackling the problem of children missing from care
  • maintaining vigilance for visa applications for children and non-UK children entering the country
  • working with international partners.

Download Human trafficking: the government's strategy (PDF)
(Home Office, 2011)

Guidance

Safeguarding children in Scotland who may have been trafficked
Guidance on child trafficking for practitioners in social care, education, immigration, health and law enforcement in Scotland. The report identifies the reasons for, and methods used in, trafficking as well as the roles of different agencies and procedures for professionals.

Guidance on human trafficking offences
Guidance to assist prosecutors in Scotland in investigating human trafficking cases. Sets out the acts that cover trafficking offences. Explains the presumption against prosecuting victims. Has a section on child trafficking covering definition, internal trafficking and child witnesses.

Legislation

Sexual Offences Act 2003
Sections 57-60 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 created the offence of trafficking into, within or out of the UK for sexual exploitation.

Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc) Act 2004
Section 4 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004 created the offence of trafficking for forms of non-sexual exploitation.

Coroners and Justice Act 2009
Section 71 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 created the offences of holding another person in slavery or servitude or requiring them to perform forced or compulsory labour without the need to prove trafficking.

Modern Slavery Act 2015

Received Royal Assent in March 2015. The Act consolidates current offences relating to trafficking and slavery.

Part 1 consolidates and clarifies the existing offences of slavery and human trafficking whilst increasing the maximum penalty for such offences. Any person found guilty of offences of slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour or offences of human trafficking is liable to life imprisonment.

Part 2 provides for two new civil preventative orders, the Slavery and Trafficking Prevention Order and the Slavery and Trafficking Risk Order. A chief officer of police, immigration officers or the National Crime Agency can make a request to prevent foreign travel, protect potential victims and prevent further offences.

Part 3 provides for new maritime enforcement powers.

Part 4 establishes the office of the Independent Anti-slavery Commissioner and sets out the functions of the Commissioner to encourage good practice in investigation and victim care.

Part 5 introduces a number of measures focussed on supporting and protecting victims, including a statutory defence for slavery or trafficking victims and special measures for witnesses in criminal proceedings. Measures include: independent child trafficking advocates; non-prosecution of victims compelled to commit crimes; and presumption that a victim is under 18 until appropriate age assessments have been carried out.

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.

Part 7 requires the Secretary of State to publish a paper on the role of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority.

View the Modern Slavery Act 2015

Policy

National Referral Mechanism (NRM)

The NRM is a framework for identifying victims of human trafficking and ensuring they receive appropriate care. It was set up in 2009 as part of the UK's implementation of the Council of Europe Convention.

The NRM is currently being reviewed and there is a pilot being carried out.

Read more about the National Referral Mechanism (NRM).

Human trafficking: the government’s strategy

This strategy, published in 2011, focuses on 4 areas to combat trafficking:

  1. improving victim identification and care arrangements
  2. enhancing the ability to act early before a trafficking victim reaches the UK through overseas agencies, focusing on priority countries, diplomatic engagement, disruption, joint operations, educating potential victims, sharing information and resources with other destination countries
  3. smarter action at the border through improving intelligence gathering and sharing, disruption at the point of visa application and at the border and utilising UK border staff in other countries
  4. better co-ordination of law enforcement efforts in the UK improving tasking and coordination to disrupt traffickers, identifying criminals, seizing the proceeds of crime and tackling demand.

The strategy includes an emphasis on raising awareness of child trafficking and ensuring child victims are dealt with from a safeguarding perspective instead of being unnecessarily criminalised.

Areas specifically identified to combat child trafficking include:

  • ensuring trafficked children involved in criminal activity are treated as victims in need of child protection
  • tackling the problem of children missing from care
  • maintaining vigilance for visa applications for children and non-UK children entering the country
  • working with international partners.

Download Human trafficking: the government's strategy (PDF)
(Home Office, 2011)

Crown Prosecution Service guidance on human trafficking, smuggling and slavery

(Crown Prosecution Service, 2013)

Practical and legal guidance for prosecutors in England and Wales dealing with cases of human trafficking and smuggling. It sets out the definition of trafficking.

It presents sentencing guidelines for each statutory offence including relevant case law. Includes sections on Achieving Best Evidence (ABE), special measures, child age disputes, internal trafficking and cases where a potential victim has been charged with offences.

The guidance highlights that children and young people charged with cultivation of cannabis plants or pickpocketing may be victims of trafficking and have committed the offences by being exploited by their traffickers or others controlling them.

View Human trafficking, smuggling and slavery

Guidance

All Wales practice guidance for safeguarding children who may have been trafficked
Guidance on child trafficking for practitioners in social care, education, immigration, health and law enforcement in Wales.

The report identifies the reasons for, and methods used in, trafficking as well as the roles of different agencies and procedures for professionals.

All Wales practice guidance for safeguarding children who may have been trafficked

Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings
An international treaty focused for protecting of victims of trafficking, safeguarding their rights, preventing trafficking and prosecuting traffickers. It was ratified by the UK government on 17 December 2008 and came into force on 1 April 2009.

Chapter 3 sets out that signatory states have a responsibility to:

  • take measures to prevent trafficking in human beings (Article 5)
  • discourage the demand for trafficked human beings (Article 6)
  • establish border, security and control of document measures to prevent and detect trafficking in human beings (Articles 7, 8 and 9)
  • identify victims (Article 10)
  • protect and assist victims (Articles 11 and 12)
  • allow a recovery and reflection period for victims (Article 13)
  • arrange where necessary a resident permit, compensation, legal redress, repatriation (Articles 14, 15 and 16).

The Convention provides for the setting up of an independent monitoring mechanism capable of controlling the implementation of the obligations contained in the Convention (known as the National Referral Mechanism in the UK).

EU directive 2011/36/EU
The UK opted into Directive 2011/36/EU on preventing and combating trafficking in human beings and protecting its victims, in 2011.

To comply with this Directive, England and Wales introduced changes to legislation in sections 109-110 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 and Northern Ireland passed amendments in sections 6-8 of the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 2013 to:

  • allow a UK national to be prosecuted even if they commit the crime of trafficking in any other country in the world
  • criminalise trafficking within the UK for non-sexual exploitation.

Scotland already had legislation in place.

Further regulations were also made in the Trafficking People for Exploitation Regulations 2013 for criminal procedures in England and Wales to:

  • protect trafficked children from criminal investigations
  • ensure trafficked children are eligible for “special measures” to assist and protect witnesses.

Europa: together against trafficking in human beings

European Union webpages on human trafficking pulling together legislation, case law, policy, publications and news.

United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the Protocols Thereto
This is the main international instrument against transnational organised crime.

It’s supplemented by 3 Protocols often called the Palmero protocols. One of these is the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.

This Protocol is a legally binding instrument and was ratified by the UK government on 9 February 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.

UNODC on human trafficking and migrant smuggling
Website of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Includes information, case studies, research, reports, tools, materials, news and developments on:

  • what human trafficking is
  • prevention and protection of victims
  • prosecution of offenders
  • raising awareness
  • training professionals.

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References

  1. Jones, J. (2012) Human trafficking in the UK: a focus on children. Child and Family Law Quarterly, Vol.24, Iss.1. pp 77-94.