15.11 Child victims of modern slavery and trafficking

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Please note this policy is under review following the publication of Working together to safeguard children, 2023.


last reviewed in October 2021

Next review October 2023


This policy cross-references policies related to Criminal and sexual exploitation including serious organised crime and gangs | Sussex Child Protection and Safeguarding Procedures Manual and Young people and substance misuse | Sussex Child Protection and Safeguarding Procedures Manual due to the potential crossover with each separate policy.




The organised crime of child trafficking has been an issue of considerable concern to all professionals with responsibility for the care and protection of children for some years. Victims may be trafficked into, out of or within the UK. Since the passing of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, crimes related to human trafficking have been incorporated into the broader term ‘Modern Slavery’. 

Modern Slavery includes slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labour, as well as human trafficking. Child and adult victims may be trafficked into the UK and then sexually exploited or forced to work.  Any form of modern slavery including trafficking children is an abuse. Children are coerced, deceived or forced into the control of others who seek to profit from their exploitation and suffering.

Some cases involve UK-born children being trafficked and exploited within the UK. This can include being trafficked from one street to the next if for the sole purpose of being forced to deal drugs, for example. There is some overlap, therefore, between the approach we need to take to tackle Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE) and other forms of modern slavery.

Section 52 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 requires specified public authorities to have a ‘Duty to Notify’ the Secretary of State (Home Office) of any individual (including a child) encountered in England and Wales who they believe is a victim of slavery or human trafficking.


It is essential that professionals working across social care, education, health, immigration and law enforcement develop an awareness of modern slavery and an ability to identify trafficked children and those subjected to other forms of modern slavery. Everyone involved in the care of unaccompanied and trafficked children should be trained to recognise and understand the particular issues likely to be faced by these children.



This guidance provides information about modern slavery, including trafficking, the roles and functions of relevant agencies and the procedures practitioners should follow to ensure the safety and well-being of children who it is suspected have been trafficked or who are victims of modern slavery.

Duty_to_notify_guidance__version_20_.pdf (antislaverycommissioner.co.uk)




Modern slavery is the recruitment, movement, harbouring or receiving of children, women or men through the use of force, coercion, abuse of vulnerability, deception or other means for the purpose of exploitation. Individuals may be trafficked into, out of or within the UK, and they may be trafficked for a number of reasons including sexual exploitation, forced labour, domestic servitude and organ harvesting.

Further definition  is outlined in the Modern Slavery Act http://www.antislaverycommissioner.co.uk/media/1063/ukpga_20150030_en.pdf


There is a further definition outlined in the Modern Slavery Act 2015:

Modern Slavery Act 2015 (legislation.gov.uk)


The definition of trafficking contained in the 'Palermo Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children' (ratified by the UK in 2006) is as follows:

"Trafficking of persons" shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of person, by means of the threat of or use:

  • Of force or other forms of coercion;
  • Of abduction;
  • Of fraud;
  • Of deception;
  • Of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability; or
  • Of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.

"Trafficking of persons" shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of person, by means of the threat of or use:

  • Of force or other forms of coercion;
  • O abduction;
  • Of fraud;
  • Of deception;
  • Of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability; or
  • Of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.

Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.


Any child transported for exploitative reasons is considered to be a trafficking victim, whether or not they have been forced or deceived. This is partly because it is not considered possible for children in this situation 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 or accompanying adults. It is important that these children are protected also.



This definition is inclusive of internal trafficking or trafficking of children within borders.

Care of Unaccompanied and Trafficked Children: Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities on the Care of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking and Trafficked Children (2014) provides that where the age of a person is uncertain and there are reasons to believe that they are a child, they are presumed to be a child in order to receive immediate access to assistance, support and protection in accordance with Article 10(3) of the European Convention on action Against Trafficking in Human Beings. Age assessments should only be carried out where there is significant reason to doubt that the claimant is a child. Age assessments should not be a routine part of a local authority’s assessment of unaccompanied or trafficked children. Where age assessments are conducted, they must be Merton Compliant.


Modern slavery and human trafficking overview


Most children are trafficked  for financial gain. This can include payment from or to the child's parents. In most cases, the trafficker also receives payment from those wanting to exploit the child once in the UK. Trafficking is carried out by organised gangs and individual adults or agents.


Trafficked children may be used for:

  • Sexual exploitation;
  • Domestic service;
  • Sweatshop, restaurant and other catering work;
  • Credit card fraud;
  • Begging or pick pocketing or other forms of petty criminal activity;
  • Agricultural labour, including tending plants in illegal cannabis farms;
  • Benefit fraud;
  • Drug mules, drug dealing or decoys for adult drug traffickers; ‘county lines’
  • Illegal inter-country adoptions.

Children may be trafficked from a number of different countries for a variety of different reasons. Factors which can make children vulnerable to trafficking are varied and include such things as poverty, lack of education, discrimination and disadvantage, political conflict and economic transition, inadequate local laws and regulations. Separated migrant children may become vulnerable to traffickers during their journey to the UK as they pass through a number of locations where traffickers are finding it easy to recruit their victims. It is also true that whilst there is a demand for children within the UK, trafficking will continue to be a problem.


To recruit children, a variety of coercive methods are used such as abduction or kidnapping as well as more subversive ways such as the promise of education, respectable employment or a better life. It has been suggested that children have been brought in via internet transactions, foster arrangements and contracts as domestic staff, or been tricked into a bogus marriage for the purpose of forcing them into sex working. Although there is no evidence of other forms of exploitation such as 'organ donation, or harvesting', all agencies should remain vigilant.


Many children travel to the UK on false documents. The creation of a false identity for a child can give a trafficker direct control over every aspect of the child's life. Even before they travel to the UK children may be subject 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.


Any port of entry into the UK may be used by traffickers via air, rail and sea and as checks on main entry points are increased evidence suggests that traffickers are using more local entry points.


Trafficked children are victims of serious crime and this will impact on their health and welfare. In order to coerce and control, they are commonly subject to physical abuse including use of drugs and alcohol, emotional and psychological abuse, sexual abuse and neglect as a result of a lack of care about their welfare and the need for secrecy surrounding their circumstances.


There is increasing evidence that children of both UK and other citizenship are being trafficked internally within the UK for very similar reasons to those outlined above. There is evidence of teenage girls born in the UK being targeted for internal trafficking between towns and cities for sexual exploitation.

Legal position


International agreements and legal instruments relevant to trafficked and exploited children include:

  • Council Of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking Human Beings (2005);
  • The Yokohama Global Commitment on the Commercial Exploitation of Children (Yokohama 2001);
  • UN Convention on Rights of the Child (UN 1989) and its protocols on Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography (2000) and Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (2000);
  • Declaration and Agenda for Action on Commercial Exploitation of Children (Stockholm, 1996).

In 2000 trafficking became enshrined in international law for the first time through the Palermo Protocol.


Section 45 (4) of the Modern Slavery Act provides that a young person shall be considered not guilty of an offence if they committed it because of being a victim of slavery.


UK legislation and guidance relevant to trafficked and exploited children includes


Sussex Anti-Slavery Network


The Sussex Anti-Slavery Network is a pan-Sussex partnership made up of statutory, non-statutory and community organisations working together to eradicate all forms of modern slavery and human trafficking from Sussex. In October 2018 an Anti-Slavery Pledge was signed by the Office of Sussex Police & Crime Commissioner, Sussex Police, West Sussex County Council, Brighton & Hove City Council and East Sussex County Council to acknowledge Anti-Slavery Day and to honour our collective commitments in responding. This includes sharing information across the county with the view to improving the support available for potential victims. It also includes raising awareness of how to spot the signs, how to get support and how to respond.

Recognition of the signs


All practitioners who encounter children and young people in their everyday work need to be able to recognise children who have been trafficked or who may be victims of modern slavery and be competent to act to support and protect these children from harm.


The nationality or immigration status of the child does not affect any agency's statutory responsibilities to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. Nationality and immigration issues should be discussed with the UK Visas and Immigration only when the child's need for protection from harm has been addressed and should not hold up action to protect the child.


Identification of trafficked children may be difficult as they might not show obvious signs of distress or abuse. Some children are unaware that they have been trafficked, while others may actively participate in hiding that they have been trafficked.


The following indicators are not a definitive list and are intended as a guide to be included in a wider assessment of the child's circumstances.


At port of entry, the child:

  • Has entered the country illegally,
  • has no passport or means of identification or has false documentation;
  • Is unable to confirm the name and address of the person meeting them on arrival;
  • Has had their journey or visa arranged by someone other than themselves or their family;
  • Is accompanied by an adult who insists on always remaining with the child;
  • Is withdrawn and refuses to talk or appears afraid to talk to a person in authority;
  • Has a prepared story like those that other children have given;
  • Is unable or is reluctant to give details of accommodation or other personal details.

Whilst resident in the UK, the child:

  • Does not appear to have money but does have a mobile phone;
  • Receives unexplained/unidentified phone calls whilst in placement / temporary accommodation;
  • Has a history of missing links and unexplained moves;
  • Is required to earn a minimum amount of money every day,
  • works in various locations,
  • has limited amount of movement,
  •  is known to beg for money;
  • Is being cared for by adult(s) who are not their parents and the quality of the relationship between the child and their adult carers is not good;
  • Is one among a few unrelated children found at one address;
  • Has not been registered with or attended a GP practice;
  • has not been enrolled in school.

Children internally trafficked in the UK; indicators include:

  • Physical symptoms indicating physical or sexual assault;
  • Behaviour indicating sexual exploitation;
  • Phone calls or letters from adults outside the usual range of contacts;
  •  Persistently missing; missing for long periods;
  • returning looking well cared for despite having no known base;
  • Possession of large amounts of money;
  • acquisition of expensive clothes, mobile phones without plausible explanation;
  • Low self-image, low self-esteem, self-harming behaviour, truancy and disengagement with education.




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 Children's Social Care, in accordance with 3.1 Recognition of Abuse and Neglect | Sussex Child Protection and Safeguarding Procedures Manual and 3.2 Making a Referral | Sussex Child Protection and Safeguarding Procedures Manual.

If the concern is raised at a port of entry, then immigration service should without delay, contact the 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 Children's Social Care for the area in which the child resides.

In cases where a child displays indicators that they may have been trafficked, whether from overseas or within the UK practitioners should also refer the case to the relevant competent authority by submitting a National Referral Mechanism referral form. All children under the age of 18 must be referred.

Practitioners should not do anything which would heighten the risk of harm or abduction to the child. Where a child has been trafficked, the Assessment should be carried out immediately as the opportunity to intervene is very narrow. Many trafficked children go missing from care, often within the first 48 hours. Provision may need to be made for the child to be in a safe place before any Assessment takes place and for the possibility that they may not be able to disclose full information about their circumstances immediately.


Decision making following the receipt of a referral will normally follow discussions with the Police, the person making the referral and may involve other professionals and services - see those identified in Support Services and Useful Contacts.


Duty to Notify


 Public authorities have a duty to notify the Secretary of State about suspected victims of slavery or human trafficking.

The ‘duty to notify’ provision is set out in Section 52 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, and applies to the following public authorities in England and Wales at the time of publication (additional public authorities can be added through regulations):

(a) a chief officer of police for a police area,

(b) the chief constable of the British Transport Police Force,

(c) the National Crime Agency,

(d) a county council,

(e) a county borough council,

(f) a district council,

(g) a London borough council,

(h) the Greater London Authority,

(i) the Common Council of the City of London,

(j) the Council of the Isles of Scilly,

(k) the Gangmasters Licensing Authority.

Home Office staff within UK Visas and Immigration, Border Force and Immigration Enforcement are also required, as a matter of Home Office policy, to comply with the duty to notify.

Family Assessment (also referred to a Child and Family Assessment or Strengthening Families Assessment)


Specific action during the  Family Assessment of a child who is possibly trafficked should include:

  • Seeing and speaking with the child and family members as appropriate - the adult purporting to be the child's parent, sponsor or carer should not be present at interviews with the child, or at meetings to discuss future actions;
  • Drawing together and analysing information from a range of sources, including relevant information from the country or countries in which the child has lived. All agencies involved should request this information from their counterparts overseas. Information about who to contact can be obtained via the Foreign and Commonwealth Office or the appropriate Embassy or Consulate in London;
  • Checking all documentation held by child, the family, the referrer and other agencies. Copies of all relevant documentation should be taken and together with a photograph of the child be included in the social worker's file.

Even if there are no apparent concerns, child welfare agencies should continue to monitor the situation until the child is appropriately settled.

Strategy Discussion and Section 47 Enquiries


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, in accordance with 3.1 Recognition of Abuse and Neglect | Sussex Child Protection and Safeguarding Procedures Manual and 3.2 Making a Referral | Sussex Child Protection and Safeguarding Procedures Manual

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

  • The child becoming looked after; or
  • Arrival in the area where they are intending to reside, if a s.47 enquiry is appropriate.

The Strategy Discussion must:

  • Share information - this will involve Immigration, the Police, Children's Social Services and any other relevant professionals;
  • Develop a strategy for making enquiries into the child's circumstances, including consideration of a video interview;
  • Develop a plan for the child's immediate protection, including the supervision and monitoring of arrangements (for Looked After children this will form part of the care plan);
  • Agree what information can be given about the child to any enquirers; and
  • Agree what support the child requires.

Professional interpreters, who have been approved and DBS checked, should be used where English is not the child's preferred language. Under no circumstances should the interpreter be the sponsor or another adult purporting to be the parent, guardian or relative. See here for 8.41 Use of Interpreters, Signers or Others with Communication Skills

Multi-agency Meeting


On completion of a Section 47 Enquiry a meeting should be held with the social worker, their supervising manager, the referring agency as appropriate, the Police and other relevant professionals to decide on future action. Further action should not be taken until this meeting has been held and multi-agency agreement obtained to the proposed plan, including the need for a Child Protection Conference and Child Protection Plan.


Where it is found that the child is not a family member and is not related to any other person in this country, consideration should be given as to whether the child needs to be moved from the household and/or legal advice sought on making a separate application for immigration status.



Any law enforcement action regarding fraud, trafficking, deception and illegal entry to this country is the remit of the Police and the local authority should assist in any way possible


Trafficked children need:

  • Professionals to be informed and competent in matters relating to trafficking and exploitation;
  • Someone to spend sufficient time with them to build up a level of trust;
  • To be interviewed separately, at no stage should adults purporting to be the child's parent, sponsor or carer be present at interviews or at meetings to discuss future action;
  • Safe placements if children are victims of organised trafficking operations and for their whereabouts to be kept confidential;
  • Legal advice about their rights and immigration status;
  • Discretion and caution to be used in tracing their families;
  • Risk assessment made of the danger if he or she is repatriated;and
  • Where appropriate, accommodation under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 or an application of an Interim Care Order.

The child should be offered an Independent Visitor and, if they decline, their reasons should be recorded. Any Independent Visitor appointed should have appropriate training and demonstrate an understanding of the needs faced by unaccompanied or trafficked children.

In addition, unaccompanied children should be informed of the availability of the Assisted Voluntary Return Schemes which are available through the Home Office. More information is available here - Assisted return: application form - GOV.UK

Intervention and support

Returning Trafficked Children to their Country of Origin


In many cases, trafficked children apply to the UK Visas and Immigration for asylum or for humanitarian protection. For some, returning to their country of origin presents a high risk of being re-trafficked, further exploitation and abuse.


If a child does not qualify for asylum or humanitarian protection and adequate reception arrangements are in place in the country of origin, the child will usually have to return. It is important that this is handled sensitively and with assistance with reintegration which is available through voluntary return schemes.

Trafficked Children who are Looked After


Trafficked children may be accommodated by the local authority under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989. This is most often because they have been identified as Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children.


The assessment of their needs to inform their Care Plan should include a risk assessment of how the local authority intends to protect them from any trafficker being able to re-involve the child in exploitative activities. This plan should include contingency plans to be followed if the child goes missing


Whilst the child is looked after, residential and foster carers should be vigilant about, for example, waiting cars outside the premises, telephone enquiries etc.


The local authority should continue to share information with the Police, which emerges during the placement of a child who may have been trafficked, concerning potential crimes against the child, risk to other children, or relevant immigration matters.

Children in specific circumstances - children going missing 


Significant numbers of children who are categorised as UASC have also been trafficked. Some of these children go missing before they are properly identified as victims of trafficking. Such cases should be urgently reported to the police. Local authorities should consider seriously the risk that a trafficked child is likely to go missing


The Missing People Helpline and the NSPCC Child Trafficking Advice and Information Helpline (0800 107 7057) can offer support.

Practitioners responding to the disappearance of vulnerable children from abroad, following their arrival in this country, can access additional guidance Joint Policy for Children Missing | Sussex Child Protection and Safeguarding Procedures Manual

Support Services and Useful Contacts

  • Modern Slavery Helpline 08000 121700
  • UK Human Trafficking Centre (UKHTC) (0114 252 3891)
  • CEOP - Child Exploitation and On-line Protection Centre (020 7238 2320)
  • NSPCC Child Trafficking Advice and Information Line (0800 107 7057) - an advice and information service for professionals, a case consultancy service is also available by appointment.
  • Refugee Council Children's Panel - Provides support to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. ECPAT UK (020 7233 9887) - UK children's rights organisation campaigning to protect children from commercial sexual exploitation.
  • UNICEF (020 7405 5592)
  • Afruca (Africans Unite Against Child Abuse) (020 7704 2261) Promotes the welfare of African children in the UK and is concerned about cruelty against African children.
  • CROP - Coalition for the Removal of Pimping (0113 240 3040) A voluntary organisation working to end the sexual exploitation of children and young people by pimps and traffickers.
  • Foreign and Commonwealth Office website (0207 008 1500)
  • Crime Reduction Toolkits - The Trafficking Toolkit
  • The Missing People Helpline and the NSPCC Child Trafficking Advice and Information Helpline (0800 107 7057)
  • Multi-agency Practice Principles for responding to child exploitation and extra-familial harm

Related guidance


Safeguarding Children who arrive from abroad (including Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children, Victims of Modern Slavery, Trafficking and Exploitation)


'Safeguarding Children Who May Have Been Trafficked', non-statutory good practice guidance issued by the Department for Education and the Home Office in October 2011

ECPAT - UK Briefing Paper on Child Trafficking - Begging and Organised Crime (published in September 2010)

ECPAT briefing 'On the Safe Side - Principles for the Safe Accommodation of Child Victims of Trafficking'

Safeguarding Trafficked Roma Children and Families, (published by the London Safeguarding Children Board in September 2010)

Care of Unaccompanied and Trafficked Children: Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities on the Care of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking and Trafficked Children (2014)

Child modern slavery and human trafficking is a significant health concern. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) has guidance addressing the role of paediatricians in relation to modern slavery and human trafficking. Guidelines contain information on recognising children who may have experienced modern slavery or trafficking and caring for them in healthcare settings.  Read the guidance: Child modern slavery and human trafficking

Covid related guidance

This page is correct as printed on Friday 24th of May 2024 06:28:45 PM please refer back to this website (http://sussexchildprotection.procedures.org.uk) for updates.