The number of children identified as potential victims of human trafficking in the UK rose 12% last year, according to a report by the UK Human Trafficking Centre.
The research identified 2,255 child potential victims of trafficking for exploitation – up from 2,077 the previous year.
Victims were most likely to be trafficked from Vietnam, Nigeria, Slovakia, Romania and the UK, while 84% of UK national children trafficked domestically were found to be potential victims of sexual exploitation.
It is the second year in a row that the number of potential victims has increased, signalling the growing scale of the problem and, according to the charity ECPAT UK, the government’s continued failure to make the UK a safe place for children.
The research also discovered more inadequacies in the way victims of child trafficking are supported in the UK.
Of the 2,255 potential victims, only 1,186 were referred to the National Referral Mechanism in 2012, on which the government relies for data to identify and support victims. Only 402 were officially judged eligible for protection.
Debbie Beadle, ECPAT UK head of youth and training, said: “We have seen time and time again children who are victims of trafficking failed by the system.
“They may have come into contact with a professional, but due to lack of training they may have not been identified, leaving them vulnerable to further exploitation. Many frontline police and local authority workers are just not aware of child trafficking and do not identify victims.”
The charity is urging the home secretary to fulfill her promise to introduce a Modern Slavery Bill, with a modern slavery commissioner responsible for strengthening identification, data collection and safeguarding procedures.