Just 2% of children trafficked to the UK granted the right to stay by Home Office

New data obtained from the Home Office shows only 17 of 754 child victims of trafficking were given Discretionary Leave to Remain in the UK in 2019-2020.

22/02/22

Just 2% of children trafficked to the UK granted the right to stay by Home Office

Newly published Home Office data reveals that in only 2% (17 out of 754) of children who were exploited and trafficked to the UK were granted the leave to remain to which they are entitled under international law.

In a new briefing from child rights organisation ECPAT UK, figures provided via a Freedom of Information request highlight that although the UK is governed by international human rights treaties which require child victims of modern slavery to be granted leave to remain in their best interests, most child victims of trafficking in the UK are denied it.

The charity says that the Nationality and Borders Bill, currently before Parliament, will reform modern slavery laws but contains no protections or provisions for children and will increase the risk of child exploitation.

In parliamentary debates of the Bill, the Government has repeated that child victims of trafficking do not need any specific provisions, and that child rights are better protected on a case-by-case basis. However, campaigners say the new Home Office data demonstrates that very few child victims who are entitled to leave to remain according to their best interests are actually granted that right.

Child victims of trafficking have rights to protection under international law (including the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child [UNCRC]) to ensure they can recover from exploitation and transition to adulthood in safety and stability. Article 14 of the Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (ECAT) sets out how member states should issue renewable residence permits to victims when required, such as due to ongoing cooperation with law enforcement. For child victims the convention is clear that decisions should only be taken in their best interests. Campaigners, however, say this is not happening.

Dame Sara Thornton, UK Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, said the assurances by the Government to look at the needs of modern slavery victims on a case-by-case basis is not sufficient.

“Through my engagement on the Nationality and Borders Bill, I have repeatedly raised the lack of detail on provisions for child victims of modern slavery and human trafficking. In relation to Clause 64 in particular, I have real concerns that the requirement to consider the best interests of a child when making decisions about immigration leave appears to have been ignored.

Cross-party amendments have been tabled at every stage of the Bill’s progress to set out a legal standard for children on the face of the Bill, with campaigners expressing concern about the Bill’s lack of clarity around immigration status for child victims. Commenting on the legislation in November last year, UN ‘Special Rapporteurs’ – experts on human rights – said: “We are concerned that there is no recognition of the primacy of the rights of the child, or of the State’s obligation to ensure the protection of migrant child victims of trafficking and contemporary forms of slavery, including through the implementation of best interests assessments and determination procedures in migration related decisions.”

There are also widespread calls for Part 5 of the Bill to be removed because it conflates responses to modern slavery and trafficking with immigration, with campaigners saying it will reduce identification and protection of all victims of trafficking including British nationals and will create a damaging two-tier system for responses to modern slavery based on immigration status.

Commenting on the latest figures, Patricia Durr, CEO of ECPAT UK, warned that assurances from the Government that they will uphold children’s best interests by judging their needs on a case-by-case basis is ‘cold comfort’.

“How can we trust that children and young people will be protected when the numbers published today show that children who are trafficked to this country are too often left in immigration limbo following identification, preventing their recovery and access to support and opportunities?”

"Year on year, the Government is failing child victims of modern slavery, and the Nationality and Borders Bill is set to make things worse – it completely ignores the rights and needs of children, constituting a significant set-back to modern slavery legislation and child protection,” Durr said.

“The Bill conflates immigration functions with the government's obligations to identify and protect victims, containing only one immigration provision for victims of modern slavery which is even more restrictive.”

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