What is modern slavery?

Modern slavery is when someone has gained control over, or ownership of, another person and is using this power to exploit them. It involved the recruitment, movement, harbouring or receiving of men, women or children using force, coercion, abuse of vulnerability, deception or other means in order to exploit them.

Someone is a victim of modern slavery if they have experienced any of the following:

  • are forced to work because of physical or verbal threats
  • are owned or controlled by an ’employer’, usually through mental, emotional, sexual or physical abuse, or the threat of such abuse
  • are dehumanised, treated as a commodity, or bought and sold as ‘property’
  • being held captive, have restrictions placed on their freedom or being moved against their will

What is child trafficking?

Child trafficking is when children are recruited and moved to be exploited, forced to work or sold.

Children are trafficked for all sorts of reasons, including child sexual exploitation, forced labour, criminal activity (such as pick pocketing or transporting drugs), benefit fraud, forced marriage or domestic servitude (such as cleaning, cooking and childcare).

Boys and girls of all ages can be victims of trafficking. Many children are trafficked into the UK from abroad, but children can also be trafficked from one part of the UK to another.

Trafficked children experience multiple forms of abuse. Physical, sexual and emotional violence are often used to control victims of trafficking. Children are also likely to be physically and emotionally neglected.

How does child trafficking and modern slavery happen?

Children are tricked, forced or persuaded to leave their homes. Traffickers often use grooming techniques to gain the trust of a child, family or community.

Traffickers may promise children an 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.

What are the signs that a child has been trafficked?

Identifying a child who has been trafficked is difficult as they are intentionally hidden and isolated from the services and communities who can identify and protect them.

Signs that a child has been trafficked may not be obvious, but could include:

  • rarely leaving the house
  • having no time to play
  • living apart from family or having limited social contact with friends, family and the community
  • appearing unfamiliar with a neighbourhood
  • being seen in inappropriate places (for example factories or brothels)
  • being unsure of where they live
  • having their movements controlled or being unable to travel on their own
  • living somewhere inappropriate, like a work address or dirty, cramped, unhygienic or overcrowded accommodation, including caravans, sheds, tents or outbuildings
  • lacking personal items
  • consistently wearing the same clothes
  • often being moved by others between specific locations (for example to and from work) – this may happen at unusual times such as very early in the day or at night
  • being unable or reluctant to give details such as where they live
  • fearful or withdrawn behaviour, or efforts made to disguise this
  • being involved in gang activity
  • being involved in the consumption, sale or trafficking of drugs
  • having their communication controlled by another – may act as though instructed by, or dependent upon, someone else
  • tattoos or other marks indicating ownership
  • physical or psychological abuse, ill health, exhaustion or injury – may look unkempt and malnourished
  • reluctance to seek help, avoidance of strangers, being fearful or hostile towards authorities
  • providing a prepared story if questioned or struggling to recall experiences
  • inconsistent accounts of their experiences

This is not an exhaustive list. The warning signs presented by children and young people who are being exploited will present differently for each individual.

Children may find it hard to understand that what’s happening is abuse – especially if they have been groomed. A victim of grooming may believe they are in a relationship with their abuser and be unaware that they are being exploited.

They also may not understand that child trafficking is abuse and that they have done nothing wrong. They might think they played a part in their abuse or that they’re guilty of breaking the law if they have been forced in to criminal activity.

Who is involved in child trafficking?

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.

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, or large criminal networks that operate internationally, can deal with high-level corruption, money laundering and large numbers of victims.

Signs an adult is involved in child trafficking include travelling with different children who they are not related to or responsible for, insisting on remaining with and speaking for the child, living with unrelated or newly arrived children, abandoning a child or claiming not to know a child they were previously with and making or acting as a guarantor for multiple visa applications for different children.

How to report child trafficking and modern slavery

If you suspect a child or adult is a victim of modern slavery, call the police on 999 if it’s an emergency or 101 if it’s not urgent.

If you wish to stay anonymous, call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.