Child victims of trafficking share their views and experiences in new research

A new interim report published today (21st July) by the University of Bedfordshire, Sheffield Hallam University and ECPAT UK has exposed the experiences of young victims of modern slavery, highlighting UK immigration procedures and prolonged social care and criminal justice processes – which many describe as being worse than human trafficking.

The ‘Creating Stable Futures’ report – which aims to understand and identify positive outcomes, protection, support and pathways for victims – summarises the main findings from a 12-month participatory research study based on the voices of young people who have experienced modern slavery. The research was led by the University of Bedfordshire’s Institute of Applied Social Research (ISPAR) and the Helena Kennedy Centre for International Justice at Sheffield Hallam University, in partnership with ECPAT UK (Every Child Protected Against Trafficking).

After being identified as victims of human trafficking through the UK immigration and social care systems, young victims of modern slavery have shared their experiences of immigration ‘limbo’ with the combined research team. The release of these findings follow the news that Olympic champion Sir Mo Farah was trafficked to the UK as a child. The study’s participants say these procedures undermine the recognition and realisation of their human rights, and place them at risk of further abuse and exploitation. These include multiple and persistent barriers to accessing documentation and the challenges involved in securing decisions relating to their immigration status – between 2019 and 2020, only 2% of child trafficking victims with irregular immigration status in the UK were granted the leave to remain they are entitled to under international law.

“It is important for people to feel safe when they are sleeping in a new country… The staff need to be kind and nice because maybe people are coming from traumatic experiences. Staff have to be very understanding of what we have been through.” – Young victim of modern slavery

Recommendations following the report include:

  • Children identified as potential victims of slavery and trafficking to be promptly assigned an independent legal guardian – access to trusting relationships, independent guardians and high-quality legal advice are imperative
  • For the Home Office to ensure the immigration and asylum system does not re-traumatise children and for the Ministry of Justice to ensure all child victims can access a solicitor who has the expertise to properly represent them
  • Local authority children’s services must enable psychological and physical recovery for child victims, particularly in the provision of safe accommodation and access to mental health services
  • Systems and processes must be child-friendly and focus on creating safe environments in which young people are able to disclose exploitation – feeling and being safe is key to securing positive outcomes for the participants
  • The young participants must be given opportunities to be heard and freedom to contribute to society

Dr Helen Connolly, ISPAR academic and Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Bedfordshire, said: “This was an incredible project to be part of. The focus on outcomes from the perspective of children and young people with experiences of trafficking and exploitation is truly innovative.

“As a research team, we really hope it will generate important conversations and actions in policy and practice that are anchored in international children’s rights and focused on sustainable futures for young people with experiences of trafficking and exploitation. It was amazing to be able to work with the most wonderful young people as co-creators of this research. Their commitment to the project, to each other and to young people of the future, was so life affirming. I feel very proud of what we achieved as a research team together with them.”

Patricia Durr, CEO of ECPAT UK, said: “Many of the young people who participated in this research felt that the biggest barriers to achieving stable futures and positive outcomes for themselves are embedded in the very systems that are designed to support them. They often find the UK immigration, social care and criminal justice systems to be discriminatory and re-traumatising. Sir Mo Farah has told us so powerfully about the reality for child victims and how difficult it can for children to understand what is happening, let alone how to tell anyone about it. We have the means to listen to young people about these barriers – it’s critical that we uphold their right to be heard, and that we use these findings to re-shape UK systems so that they effectively protect and care for child victims of trafficking and exploitation.”

For more information about the report, visit:

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