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 and 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.

Child Trafficking Advice Centre

If you work with children or young people who may have been trafficked into the UK, contact our specialist service for information and advice.

Call us or email for more information.

0808 800 5000

Find out more about CTAC

Abuse and neglect of trafficked children

Trafficked children experience multiple forms of abuse and neglect.

Physical, sexual and emotional violence are often used to control victims of trafficking. Children are also likely to be physically and emotionally neglected.

Official definition of child trafficking

Council of Europe, ratified by the UK government in 2008

The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a child for the purpose of exploitation shall be considered 'trafficking in human beings'.

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.

girl sitting by sink looking down.

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:

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).

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.

Find out more about legislation, policy and guidance which deals directly with child trafficking and modern slavery.

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Signs, symptoms and effects

Signs that a child has been trafficked may not be obvious – but you might notice unusual behaviour or events. 
Spotting signs of child trafficking


  1. HM Government (2012) Report on the internal review of human trafficking legislation (PDF). London: [The Stationery Office].

  2. 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.