Plans to tackle trafficking fail to heed expert advice, claim charities

Children’s charities say a Home Office paper on how to tackle human trafficking gives a false impression that child trafficking is not a serious problem in the UK.

The three-month consultation, issued this month, focuses on addressing demand for trafficked people as much as the supply. But it has failed to learn lessons from the government’s own pilot schemes or listen to experts in the field, according to Ecpat UK, a coalition of nine charities involved in international child protection.

Christine Beddoe, director of Ecpat UK, said it was “very disappointing” that the consultation did not take account of the information being fed into the department in recent years.

She said the government had learned “very few” lessons from Operation Paladin Child, the Metropolitan Police-led project to tackle child trafficking at Heathrow Airport in 2003, including recommendations on how to identify children who may have been trafficked at ports of entry into the UK.

Ecpat believes the consultation reinforces the government’s fundamental misunderstanding of child trafficking as an immigration crime rather than a child protection issue.

Beddoe said police forces across the country had been unable to secure many convictions of suspected child traffickers, so there was a pressing need for child protection to be made a police priority.

Her call was backed by detective inspector Gordon Valentine, the Met’s lead on child trafficking.

Beddoe added: “The asylum process itself doesn’t recognise trafficking as reason for asylum. But until you have a tick box on forms to allow us to get a picture of the extent of the problem, the pressure will not be on policy makers to put a stop to it.

“When you don’t have official statistics gathered through statutory agencies then you can say we don’t have a problem. This is a situation that has got to be sorted out.”

Mike Gould, team manager of the National Register for Unaccompanied Children, said assessing whether children had been trafficked was further complicated by poor quality Home Office data.

The records that the department supplies to the register assume that each unaccompanied asylum seeker could be trafficked, with the result that the register depends on information from local authorities to ascertain whether they have actually been trafficked.

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