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Child victims of trafficking share their views and experiences in new research

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21 July 2022

Child victims of trafficking share their views and experiences in new research

Young victims of modern slavery have shared their experiences following identification of human trafficking through the UK immigration and social care systems in a new interim report published today

Press contact: Emma Griffiths | e.griffiths@shu.ac.uk

Artwork created by an ECPAT youth programme member
Artwork created by an ECPAT youth programme member

Co-led by the Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice, the report summarises the main findings from a 12-month participatory research study which focuses on the experiences of young victims of modern slavery subject to immigration control.  

The young participants highlight the multiple and persistent barriers to accessing documentation and securing decisions relating to their immigration status – in 2019-20, only 2% of children trafficked to the UK were granted the leave to remain they are entitled to under international law.  

They talk about the distressing nature of the immigration process itself which many of the participants describe as being worse than experiences of human trafficking and undermines their human rights and places them at risk of further exploitation.   

Professor Patricia Hynes, Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice, Sheffield Hallam University, said: “Children and young people have rights – rights to be heard, participate and to be able to develop their lives and contribute to society. We found a real lack of focus in existing literature regarding these rights to personal development and this contrasts starkly with the way young people envisage their own futures.  

“We also found that good practice exists to ensure young people affected by human trafficking can experience trusting relationships in spaces that are safe and offer some stability. If we are serious about enabling positive outcomes for all these young people, these examples of good practice could and should be replicated beyond the excellent work of a few outstanding organisations.” 

Findings highlight the need for processes that are child-friendly and focus on creating safe environments in which young people can disclose exploitation. It is also important to the young participants that they are given opportunities to be heard, and freedom to contribute to society.  

“It is important for people to feel safe when they are sleeping in a new country… The staff need to be kind and nice because maybe people are coming from traumatic experiences. Staff have to be very understanding of what we have been through.” (Young victim of modern slavery) 

The report makes a series of recommendations to UK government, calling for children identified as potential victims of slavery and trafficking to be assigned an independent legal guardian, for the Home Office to ensure the immigration and asylum system does not re-traumatise children and for the Ministry of Justice to ensure all child victims can access a solicitor who has the expertise to properly represent them.  

The recommendations also highlight that all decisions about children must be made with their best interests as the primary consideration, and that local authority children’s services must enable psychological and physical recovery for child victims, particularly in the provision of safe accommodation and access to mental health services. 

The research was led by the Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice at Sheffield Hallam University and the University of Bedfordshire’s Institute of Applied Social Research, in partnership with ECPAT UK (Every Child Protected Against Trafficking) and funded by the Modern Slavery and Human Rights Policy and Evidence Centre.  

Dr Helen Connolly, Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Bedfordshire, said: “This was an incredible project to be part of. The focus on outcomes from the perspective of children and young people with experiences of trafficking and exploitation is truly innovative. As a research team, we really hope it will generate important conversations and actions in policy and practice that are anchored in international children's rights and focused on sustainable futures for young people with experiences of trafficking and exploitation.  

“It was amazing to be able to work with the most wonderful young people as co-creators of this research. Their commitment to the project, to each other and to young people of the future, was so life affirming. I feel very proud of what we achieved as a research team together with them.” 

Patricia Durr, CEO of ECPAT UK, said: “Many of the young people who participated in this research felt that the biggest barriers to achieving stable futures and positive outcomes for themselves are embedded in the very systems that are designed to support them. They often find the UK immigration, social care, and criminal justice systems to be discriminatory and re-traumatising. We have the means to listen to young people about these barriers – it’s critical that we uphold their right to be heard, and that we use these findings to re-shape UK systems so that they effectively protect and care for child victims of trafficking and exploitation.” 

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Emma Griffiths

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Phone: 01142 252811

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