Children trafficked in UK may number thousands

The hundreds of known cases of trafficked children in the UK are
just the “tip of the iceberg” and thousands of children may be
trafficked each year, according to a Unicef report, writes
Clare Jerrom

The scale of the problem is hidden by the nature of the crime,
but also because trafficking is not a criminal offence and police
are unable to monitor the problem. Recent cases in Newcastle and
Nottingham suggest that traffickers are widening their operations,
and targeting places where authorities are not aware of the

“Trafficking is a serious abuse of child rights and is the
fastest growing business of organised crime, since it is seen as
less risky than trafficking drugs,” said David Bull,
executive director of Unicef UK. “Until very recently,
trafficking wasn’t even illegal and is still only a crime if
carried out for sexual exploitation.”

The report from the United Nations agency highlights that
children are the most vulnerable of all trafficking victims. Their
development is threatened and their right to education, health and
ability to grow up within a protective environment, free from
exploitation and abuse, are denied.

Children are mainly trafficked from West Africa, Eastern Europe
and Asia, but the Western African cultural practice of sending
children to live with extended family to be better educated is
being used to mask trafficking, as parents are duped into thinking
their child will better themselves.

This was highlighted by the case of Victoria Climbie, who
travelled with her great-aunt Marie-Therese Kouao to France then
the UK, as her parents believed she would get a better education.
She died in 2000 after months of abuse from Kouao and her boyfriend
Carl Manning.

The report raised concerns that between 8,000 and 10,000
children in private foster arrangements in the UK, many from West
Africa, could be abused or exploited without anyone even knowing
they are in the country.

The government’s Sexual Offences Bill, currently in the
House of Commons, makes it illegal to traffic people into the UK
for commercial sexual exploitation, but children trafficked for
other purposes remain unprotected.

Unicef is calling on the government to close this loophole and
make it illegal to traffic a child for any purpose. The charity
also urges central funding for specialist care including training
for immigration officers and social workers, counselling and safe
houses, as unless safe-house accommodation is provided fear will
drive children to escape to meet their traffickers and exploitation
will continue.

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