Government failing child victims of trafficking, new Freedom of Information data reveals

The government is failing in its treatment of child victims of trafficking in a hostile immigration system, according to new data released on the UK's Anti-Slavery Day.

The data , obtained by ECPAT UK, relates to a four year period from 2016-2019 and shows that of 4,695 adults and children confirmed as victims of trafficking and subject to immigration control just 28 child victims were granted discretionary leave to remain in the UK, suggesting a large number of victims put at risk of deportation by the Home Office upon turning 18.

The Home Office did not reveal how many of the 4,695 victims were children, but annual statistics on referrals into the National Referral Mechanism suggest children made up almost half of all people identified as potential victims.

The Freedom of Information (FOI) request also highlighted that the vast majority of adult and child victims were only granted discretionary leave for periods of up to 12 months.

ECPAT UK warned, however that “for children, such a short grant of leave is rarely in their best interests as it does not provide the stability they need to stay safe and recover from the trauma and abuse they have experienced.”

Patricia Durr, Chief Executive of ECPAT UK, said she was shocked both by the data, and that they only have the information because they pursued freedom of information requests over a significant period of time.

She added “It’s hard to overstate how challenging immigration limbo is for young victims of trafficking - spending their teenage years anxious about their future, unable to recover from the trauma and abuse they have suffered, at high risk of going missing and being exploited again, and dreading their 18th birthday. Covid-19 has worsened these challenges as much of the support they rely on has fallen away and hostility toward migrants has increased.

“We urgently need an integrated process for child victims that sees them as children first, protects and cares for them and identifies what is in their best interests long term, and ensures everyone is working together to find a long term durable solution for them, including decisions on their immigration status.”

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