London Safeguarding Children Board: Child Protection Procedures 5th Edition London SCB Powered by tri.x Powered by tri.x
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9. Safeguarding Trafficked and Exploited Children

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Policy and Legislation




How Does Trafficking Happen


Why Do People Traffick Children


Why is Trafficking Possible


How Children are brought to the UK


What Happens to Children before they Arrive


The Impact of Trafficking on Children


Identifying Trafficked and Exploited Children


Children at Port of Entry


Children Already in the Country


Referrals Regarding Possible Trafficking and Exploitation of a Child


S.47 Enquiry


Looked After Children


Support for Trafficked and Exploited Children


Appendix 1: Practitioners and volunteers in different agencies' actions up to and including referral to Children's Social Services


Appendix 2: List of addresses and contact details for embassies and consulates for various parts of the world


The LCPC thanks ECPAT, UNICEF and NSPCC for allowing the use of their information; and LB Enfield for supporting the development of this procedure.



This Procedure provides guidance to professionals and volunteers from all agencies in safeguarding children who are abused and neglected by adults who traffick them into and out of the UK in order to exploit them.

The majority of migrating accompanied and unaccompanied children seek asylum at their port of entry or when they arrive in London. However, children who are migrated for exploitative reasons (trafficked) do not come to the attention of the authorities or disappear from contact with statutory services soon after arrival.

All children are rendered more vulnerable as a result of accompanied or unaccompanied migration; trafficked children are at increased risk of suffering Significant Harm.

The Procedure also touches on issues for children who have migrated to the UK and present as unaccompanied asylum seeking children.


Policy and Legislation

9.2.1 International

International legislation relevant to trafficked and exploited children includes:

In 2000 Trafficking became enshrined in international law for the first time through the Palermo Protocol within the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children. The Protocol defines trafficking as:

'The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a child for the purpose of exploitation shall be considered 'trafficking in persons' even if this does not involve any of the means set forth [elsewhere in the Palermo Protocol]'

9.2.2 UK

UK legislation and guidance relevant to trafficked and exploited children includes:



9.3.1 Trafficking and Exploitation

The two most common terms for the illegal movement of people - 'trafficking' and 'smuggling', are very different. In human smuggling immigrants and asylum seekers pay people to help them enter the country illegally; after which there is no longer a relationship. Trafficked victims are coerced or deceived by the person arranging their relocation. On arrival in the country of destination the trafficked child or person is denied their human rights and is forced into exploitation by the trafficker or person into whose control they are delivered.

The Palermo Protocol establishes children as a special case - any child transported for exploitative reasons is considered to be a trafficking victim - whether or not they have been deceived. This is partly because it is not considered possible for children to give informed consent.

Even when a child understands what has happened they may still appear to submit willingly, to what they believe to be the will of their parents.


How does Trafficking Happen?

Traffickers are known to recruit their victims using a variety of methods. Some children are subject to coercion, which could take the form of abduction or kidnapping. However, the majority of children are trapped by in subversive ways:

Many children travel on false documents and for those who do not, the traffickers usually throw away their identification papers.


Why Do People Traffick Children?

Most children are trafficked and exploited for financial gain. This can take the form of payment from the child's parents, and in most cases the trafficker also receives payment from those wanting to exploit the child once in the UK. Some trafficking is by organised gangs, in other cases individual adults traffick children to the UK for their own personal gain. Exploitation includes children being used for:

Younger children are often trafficked to become beggars and thieves or for benefit fraud. Teenagers are often trafficked for domestic servitude, sexual exploitation and forced marriage.


Why is Trafficking Possible?

Factors in their own country which make children vulnerable to trafficking include:


How Are Children Brought To The U.K.?

Children enter the UK in two key ways, accompanied adult/s or as unaccompanied minors.

Accompanied children:

 Very little is known about accompanied children, many of whom are brought in by adults either purporting to be their parents or stating that they have the parent's permission to bring the child. There are many legitimate reasons for children being brought to the UK, such as, education, re-unification with family or fleeing a war-torn country.

Unaccompanied children:

More is known about these children because they come to the notice of the authorities when they claim asylum. Although there appear to be some groups of children who do not seek help from the authorities, notably Chinese children who 'disappear' into the Chinese communities in the UK.

Many African children are referred to Children's Social Services after applying for asylum, and even register at school for up to a term, before disappearing again. It is thought that they are trafficked out of the UK to Europe. Children also come to London via Gatwick and Dover. However, recent experience is that as checks have improved at the larger ports of entry, traffickers are starting to use the smaller, less well known ports, such as Luton and Stansted airports. 

9.7.1 Trafficking Schemes

There are three phases in the trafficking process; the recruitment phase, the transit phase and the destination phase. The traffickers might be part of a well organised criminal network, or they might be individuals helping out in only one of the various stages of the operation, such as the provision of false documentation, transport, or a 'safe house'.

To respond to trafficking Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 came into force on 2 November 2009. It requires the UK Visas and Immigration to make arrangements to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in discharging its immigration, nationality and general customs functions. On 1 April 2013 the UK Visas and Immigration was split into two separate operational units within the Home Office. The units are:


What Happens to Children before they Arrive in the UK

Even before they travel children can be subjected to various forms of abuse and exploitation to ensure that the trafficker's control over the child continues after the child is transferred to someone else's care:


The Impact of Trafficking on Children

Trafficked and exploited children are not only deprived of their rights to health and freedom from exploitation and abuse - they are usually also deprived of their right to an education and the life opportunities this brings.

Once children have been trafficked and exploited, they are vulnerable to:

9.9.1 Physical Abuse and Neglect

9.9.2 Psychological Harm


Identifying Trafficked and Exploited Children

Children are being trafficked to and exploited in counties and cities all over the UK. All entry and exit points in the UK are potential channels for trafficking children. Children who arrive in the UK are protected under the Children Act 1989.

It is incumbent on all agencies to work together to safeguard and promote the welfare of children trafficked into and out of the UK, providing the same standard of care as that available to any other child in the UK.

All practitioners who come into contact with children and young people in their everyday work need to be able to recognise when children have been trafficked and exploited, to understand the areas of vulnerability that this can generate for a child or young person and should be competent to act to support and protect these children.

This may be the crucial intervention which breaks the cycle of the child being vulnerable to continuing or further exploitation.

9.10.1 Risk Indicators

There are a number of circumstances which could indicate that a child may have been trafficked to the UK, and may still be being controlled by the traffickers or receiving adults. These include situations in which the child:


Children at Port of Entry

All aspects about immigration, visas and arrivals in to the country are addressed in the guidance to frontline staff through the UK Visas and Immigration which can be accessed here and further information can be accessed in the HOME Office document 'Victims of human trafficking: guidance to front line staff.'


Children already in the Country

9.12.1 Community Groups, Neighbours and the Public

As most children who are victims of trafficking who arrive in the UK are not aware of their rights or that they can claim asylum, once they have gained entry to the country they are unlikely to come to the notice of asylum or immigration services.

Trafficked and exploited children often come to the notice of any agency only when it is too late. Some are enrolled at school and concerns are only raised when they leave unexpectedly, and there is no trace of them or their 'family' at their home address. Others are never registered at school or with a GP. These children do not come into contact with the statutory services who could raise concerns about their welfare. Younger children may be known to local Housing or benefits services. However, most trafficked children are invisible. Protecting them and promoting their welfare depends on the awareness and co-operation of community groups, neighbours and the public. This has implications for awareness raising campaigns. (See Local Safeguarding Children Boards below).

9.12.2 Private Fostering

Private fostering is defined in the Children Act 1989 as occurring when a child under 16 years (or under 18 if disabled) is placed for more than 28 days in the care of someone who is not a close relative, guardian or someone with Parental Responsibility (close relatives are defined by the Act as parents, step-parents, siblings, siblings of a parent and grandparents).

As the current systems relies on the parents and the foster carers to notify the local authority of a private fostering arrangement (preferably before, but certainly within 48 hours, of the child arriving to stay), only a very small proportion of placements are notified, and private fostering remains an underground activity, ideal for people who traffick children.

Staff or volunteers in an agency who have concerns that a child may be trafficked and privately fostered should contact LA Children's Social Care, who can investigate under their regulatory duties in relation to private fostering (Children Acts 1989 & 2004). These duties are: to identify private fostering arrangements, inspect the home and assess the suitability of the arrangement in terms of the child's welfare, visit the child regularly, and monitor and keep records of the placement.

There is also a new requirement on local authorities to raise awareness of the notification requirements within local communities (section 7a of the Children Act 2004) and to ensure that staff or volunteers in all agencies encourage notification.

9.12.3 All Agencies

Wherever staff or volunteers in an agency come into contact with a child who has arrived unaccompanied in the country and is not in contact with Children's Social Services or a child who is accompanied, but for whom they have concerns regarding their welfare or safety, they should consult and follow one of the following:

All these procedures will ultimately guide practitioners and volunteers to contact their local Children's Social Care if they are concerned that a child has been, is being or could be abused through trafficking.

9.12.4 LA Children's Social Care

LA Children's Social Care have responsibility for assisting all unaccompanied children and children who have come to the UK with their parents for whom there are concerns regarding their welfare and safety.

See Referrals Regarding Possible Trafficking and Exploitation of a Child and S.47 Enquiry below for LA Children's Social Care duties to undertake an assessment and, where appropriate, a S.47 enquiry. This is in line with the Referral and Assessment Procedure.

9.12.5 Health Services

Trafficked children who need healthcare are more likely to be seen at Accident and Emergency services, Walk-in Centres, minor injury units or gum clinics, than by primary care services. Reception staff need to be alert to inconsistencies in addresses, deliberate vagueness and children or carers being unable to give details of next of kin, names telephone numbers etc.

When children or their carers give addresses in other countries, with the information that the child is resident outside of the UK, reception staff should always record the current holiday address as well as the home address in the other country. Staff need to be alert to 'local holiday' addresses in case patterns emerge that would suggest large numbers of children moving in and out of one address. Home visitors such as Health Visitors and Senior Nurses who may follow up visits to Accident and Emergency and Walk-in Centres, should also be alert to the moving in and out and rapid turnover of different children to any one address.

9.12.6 Education Services

Children trafficked into the country may be registered at a school for a term or so, before being moved to another part of the UK or abroad again. Schools therefore need to be alert to this pattern of registration and de-registration. This pattern has been identified in schools near ports, however it could happen anywhere in the UK.

There is general agreement that children who have experienced certain life events are more at risk of going missing from education. Trafficked children are particularly vulnerable: see The Impact of Trafficking on Children above. Schools need therefore to be alert to the possibility that a child who goes missing from school, may be, or have been, a trafficked child, who is living with or is running away from an exploitative situation.

The London Guidance Safeguarding Children Missing from School should assist schools in identifying situations where children have been or are being trafficked.

9.12.7 Local Authority Asylum Team

Many local authorities have asylum teams who have responsibility for families, single adults and unaccompanied young people for whom there are no concerns additional to their migrant status. Where this is the case, there should be a locally agreed protocol to assist other teams and agencies in working jointly with the asylum team.

9.12.8 Police

London's Child Abuse Investigation Teams and Borough officers are supported by a Metropolitan Police Paladin Team. This is an integrated team of Police and Immigration Officers who specialise in safeguarding children issues. The team is based at Heathrow Airport and provides a limited service to the UKVI's Asylum Screening Unit and the International Eurostar Terminal at Waterloo Station. The Paladin Team undertakes proactive and preventative initiatives against the trafficking of children throughout London. The team has some capacity to investigate specific trafficking and migration offences, as well as providing an advisory service to Child Abuse Investigation teams on child trafficking issues.

9.12.9 Local Safeguarding Children Boards

Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs) should have an interagency strategy and protocols in place for the early identification and notification to the relevant agencies of potential victims as they arrive in the country.

LSCBs should offer training to improve:

LSCBs should maintain close links with community groups and have a strategy in place for raising awareness within the local community of the possibility that children are trafficked and exploited, and how to raise a concern.

LSCBs with a detention/deportation centre in their area should develop a close working relationship with the centre in order to safeguard and promote the welfare of both the accompanied and unaccompanied children who reside at the centre.

9.12.10 Refugee Council Children's Panel

The Refugee Council Children's Panel of Advisers comprises about 30 advisers who travel all over the country to support unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. The Panel offers support to children who:

The support includes:

The Panel also offers this support to children at a drop-in advice service in Brixton; where they can also get hot lunches, showers, second hand clothes and help with tracing missing relatives.

The nature of the Children's Panel Advisers' work is such that they may well gather information which enables them to identify and refer children who are trafficked.


Referrals Regarding Possible Trafficking and Exploitation of a Child

An agency or individual practitioner or volunteer who has a concern regarding possible trafficking and exploitation of a child to LA Children's Social Care, should contact the LA Children's Social Care for the borough in which the child currently resides. For immigration officers at ports of entry, this will be the address which the child is planning to reside at when s/he is allowed to enter the UK.

9.13.1 Referral and Information Gathering

Appendix 1: Practitioners and volunteers in different agencies' actions up to and including referral to Children's Social Services sets out what practitioners and volunteers in the different agencies should do when they suspect that a child may have been or is being trafficked and exploited. This section describes in more detail the response from LA Children's Social Care to a referral from one of the agencies:

9.13.2 National Referral Mechanism

9.13.3 Action after the Information Gathering

On completion of the information gathering the social worker discusses the referral with their supervising manager to agree and plan one of four ways forward:


An assessment to decide whether -

  • Appropriate arrangements for the child have been made by her/his parents;

  • There are grounds to accommodate the child;

  • The child is in need of immediate protection;

  • A s.47 enquiry should be initiated (See Section 9.14, S47 Inquiry).


Accommodation of the child under s.20 Children Act 1989 - there may be enough information at this stage to support a decision to accommodate the child. A child should be accommodated under s.20 Children Act 1989 if:

  • The child is lost or abandoned;

  • There is no person with Parental Responsibility for the child;

  • The person who has been accommodating the child is prevented, for whatever reason, from providing suitable accommodation or care.

If there is reasonable cause to believe that the child is suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm, an Emergency Protection Order may be sought. Consideration should be given to Police Powers of Protection in an emergency.


Instigation of a Child Protection Enquiry and an Assessment of need under s.47 Children Act 1989 (See S.47 Enquiry below)



No further action - if no concerns are identified.


The social worker should advise the referrer of which plan is in place.

  • The discussion between the social worker and their supervising manager after completion of the information gathering, should be recorded, tasks outlined and signed off by the manager;

  • If further action is needed, consideration should be given to involvement of the police, education, health services, the referring agency and other relevant bodies e.g. housing, the benefits agency and immigration service. Careful consideration should be given to the effect of any action on the outcome of any investigation;

  • In undertaking any assessment and all subsequent work with the child, the social worker must ensure that they use a suitable interpreter;

  • The social worker must meet with the referrer;

  • The social worker must check all documentation held by the referrer and other relevant agencies. Documentation should include, passport, Home Office papers, birth certificate, proof of guardianship. The list is not exhaustive and all avenues should be looked into.

    When assessing paperwork/documentation attention should be given to the detail. If a passport, when was it issued, how long is the visa for, does the picture resemble the child, is the name in the passport the same as the alleged mother/father, if not, why not. When assessing documentation, does it appear original, take copies to ensure further checks can be made;

  • Once all papers have been checked, the social worker should clarify with the referrer what his/her concerns are again. Why did they make the referral, what led them to believe the child may be trafficked or here illegally etc; and request that they put their concerns in writing to ensure accuracy of recording.

9.13.4 Decision to Interview

Once all possible information has been gathered, the social worker and their supervising manager, together with the police should decide whether to conduct joint interviews with the police, either the Child Abuse Investigation Team (CAIT) or the Immigration Service and the Borough Police.

The adults in the family should be interviewed (separately if possible) on the same basis, using the same questions, a comparison can then be made between the answers to ensure they match.

See also the London Guidance for Safeguarding Children Missing from School.


S.47 Enquiry

Whenever a practitioner or volunteer becomes concerned that a child has suffered, or is likely to suffer, significant harm, a referral must be made to LA Children's Social Care, (verbal referral, followed by a written referral within 48 hours) in accordance with Responding to Concerns of Abuse and Neglect Procedure), Referral and Assessment Procedure.

If the concern is raised at a port of entry, then immigration service should without delay, contact the LA Children's Social Care for the local area serving the port of entry. If the child is already in the country, the referral must be made to the LA Children's Social Care for the area in which the child resides.

LA Children's Social Care must convene a Strategy Meeting within two working days of:

The Strategy Meeting must:


Looked After Children

An Assessment of the child's needs must be undertaken immediately by the social worker and residential worker/carer to include:

Planning and actions to support the child must minimise the risk of the traffickers being able to re-involve a child exploitative activities. Thus:

The child's social worker must try to make contact with the child's parents in the country of origin (immigration services may be able to help), to find out the plans they have made for their child and to seek their views. The social worker must to steps to verify the relationship between the child and those thought to be her/his parent/s.

See Appendix 2 for a list of addresses and contact details for embassies and consulates for various parts of the world.

Anyone approaching the local authority and claiming to be a potential carer, friend, member of the family etc, of one of the child, should be investigated by the social worker, the police and immigration service. If the supervising manager is satisfied that all agencies have completed satisfactory identification checks and risk assessments the child may transfer to their care.


Support for Trafficked and Exploited Children

Children who have been trafficked and exploited are likely to need some of the following services:

9.16.1 Issues for Professionals to consider when working with Trafficked and Exploited Children

Children who have been trafficked and exploited need:

9.16.2 Missing Children

London practitioners responding to the disappearance of vulnerable children from abroad, following their arrival in this country, can access additional guidance in Children Missing from Care, Home and Education,

9.16.3 Issues for the Prosecution of Traffickers

Attempting to persuade a child victim to testify against a trafficker is complicated. The child usually fears reprisal from the traffickers and/or the adults whom the child was living with in the UK if they co-operate with the police. This includes reprisals against their family in their home country. Children who might agree to testify, fear that they will be discredited because they were coerced into lying on their visa applications/ immigration papers.

9.16.4 Repatriation and Deportation

Trafficked and exploited children who eventually return home can suffer discrimination from the community - particularly girls who have been sexually exploited. A risk assessment needs to be into the danger a child may face if they are repatriated.

Appendix 1: Practitioners and volunteers in different agencies' actions up to and including referral to Children's Social Services

Click here to view Appendix 1: Practitioners and volunteers in different agencies' actions up to and including referral to Children's Social Services.

Appendix 2: List of addresses and contact details for embassies and consulates for various parts of the world

Click here to view Appendix 2: List of addresses and contact details for embassies and consulates for various parts of the world.