Child trafficking What is child trafficking
Child trafficking and modern slavery are child abuse. Children are recruited, moved or transported and then exploited, forced to work or sold.
Children are trafficked for:
- child sexual exploitation
- benefit fraud
- forced marriage
- domestic servitude such as cleaning, childcare, cooking
- forced labour in factories or agriculture
- criminal activity such as pickpocketing, begging, transporting drugs, working on cannabis farms, selling pirated DVDs, bag theft.
Many children are trafficked into the UK from abroad, but children can also be trafficked from one part of the UK to another.
Official definition of child trafficking
The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a child for the purpose of exploitation shall be considered 'trafficking in human beings'.
Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings, was ratified by the UK government in 2008.
How child trafficking and modern slavery happens
Children are tricked, forced or persuaded to leave their homes. Traffickers use grooming techniques to gain the trust of a child, family or community.
They may threaten families, but this isn’t always the case – in fact, the use of violence and threats to recruit victims has decreased (Europol, 2011).
Traffickers may promise children education or persuade parents their child can have a better future in another place.
Sometimes families will be asked for payment towards the ‘service’ a trafficker is providing – for example sorting out the child’s documentation prior to travel or organising transportation.
Traffickers make a profit from the money a child earns through exploitation, forced labour or crime. Often this is explained as a way for a child to pay off a debt they or their family 'owe' to the traffickers.
Although these are methods used by traffickers, coercion, violence or threats do not need to be proven in cases of child trafficking - a child cannot legally consent so child trafficking only requires evidence of movement and exploitation.
Who trafficks children
Child trafficking is a hidden crime. So we don’t have a lot of information about who trafficks children. What we do know comes from small scale studies and our work with young people who have been trafficked.
Traffickers work as a network of individuals or groups
Child trafficking requires a network of people who recruit, transport and exploit children and young people. Each group or individual has a different role or task. Some people in the chain might not be directly involved in trafficking a child but play a part in other ways such as falsifying documents, bribery, owning or renting premises or money laundering (Europol, 2011).
Traffickers may be:
- individuals or small groups
who recruit a small number of children - often from areas they know and live in
- medium-sized groups
who recruit, move and exploit, often on a small scale
- large criminal networks
that operate internationally, can deal with high-level corruption, money laundering and large numbers of victims (McRedmond, 2010).
Prosecutions are rare
Where trafficking happens across international borders, traffickers might be prosecuted in their home country so will not be recorded as a UK prosecution.
It’s difficult to prosecute traffickers because:
- legislation may be ineffective or may not exist
- victims may be afraid or reluctant to give evidence
- trafficking networks can make it difficult to gather evidence on individuals.
Other criminal activities involved in trafficking are often easier to prosecute – for example assisting unlawful immigration, rape, kidnapping/abduction, false imprisonment, threats to kill, causing, inciting or controlling prostitution for gain (HM Government, 2012).
Police often use disruption tactics to tackle human trafficking. This includes things like freezing the bank accounts of suspected traffickers or ensuring a strong police presence in known locations of exploitation. It’s a really effective way to help stop trafficking and is part of the UK government’s strategy but it doesn’t always end up in prosecution.
In March 2015 the Modern Slavery Bill received Royal Assent. The Act consolidates current offences relating to trafficking and slavery.
Support our research
Research like this helps keep children safe from abuse – but we can’t do it without our generous supporters.
Support for professionals
Our Current Awareness Service for Practice, Policy And Research delivers free weekly email alerts to keep you up-to-date with all the latest safeguarding and child protection news.
Follow us on Twitter and keep up-to-date with all the latest news in child protection.
We hold the UK's largest collection of child protection resources and the only UK database specialising in published material on child protection, child abuse and child neglect.
New in the Library
A free weekly email listing all of the new child protection publications added to our library collection.
Helping you keep children safe
Read our guide for professionals on what we do and the ways we can work with you to protect children and prevent abuse and neglect.
Impact and evidence hub
Find out how we evaluate and research the impact we’re making in protecting children, get tips and tools for researchers and access resources.
Get expert training and consultancy
Sharing knowledge to keep children safe
Read our guide to NSPCC Knowledge and Information Services to find out how we can help you with child protection queries, support your research, and help you learn and develop.
Europol (2011) Knowledge product: trafficking in human beings in the European Union (PDF). The Hague: Europol.
HM Government (2012) Report on the internal review of human trafficking legislation (PDF). London: [The Stationery Office].
McRedmond, P. (2010) 'Defining organised crime in the context of human trafficking'. In: Wylie, G. and McRedmond, P. (eds.) Human trafficking in Europe: character, causes and consequences. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. pp.181-197.