Unicef’s new report, Stop the Traffic, makes chilling
reading: “There may well be literally hundreds, if not thousands,
of children in the UK who have been brought here for exploitation,”
it says. Children are brought here for prostitution, drug
smuggling, domestic slavery and even, as may have been the case
with the Nigerian boy “Adam” whose torso was found in the River
Thames, for ritual killing. As the extent of child trafficking
emerges from the swamp of once hidden practices, there are
important implications not just for the judicial system, but for
social care too.
The only legal barrier to child trafficking at present is where the
object is commercial sexual exploitation. Yet there are powerful
arguments for outlawing child trafficking whatever despicable
motives the adults who exploit them may have. Even where children
are brought into the country ostensibly for harmless reasons, such
as private fostering, the ulterior motive may be to embroil them in
one form of abuse or another.
Here is where social care has such a prominent part to play.
Victoria Climbie was just one of between 8,000 and 10,000 children,
mainly from west Africa, who are privately fostered in the UK and
the case for some official oversight of these informal placements
is overwhelming. But the involvement of social care ought to go
Unicef rightly asserts that social services should work closely
with the immigration service to provide training and help with the
identification of victims at ports of entry. And there should be a
network of safe houses across the country, each with ready access
to social, health and legal support.
The appointment of a children’s minister should be an opportunity
to open a new front in the battle against child abuse.