Merseyside's Deputy Police Commissioner has urged the government to invest in a new strategy to prevent child trafficking following the release of a 'troubling' national report.
The report 'Before the Harm is Done' produced by the UK Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group (ATMG) has criticised the government for failing to protect thousands of children from exploitation by lacking a plan to prevent trafficking.
There were 2,118 suspected child trafficking victims reported to the UK authorities in 2017, comprising nearly half (41%) of the total number of potential victims and constituting a concerning 66% increase from the year before.
British children make up the biggest group of suspected victims, with 677 children from the UK referred to the authorities. The increase in county lines exploitation is blamed for the massive 265% spike in British children trafficking referrals compared to 2016.
County Lines refers to when criminals from major cities including Liverpool, Manchester, London and Birmingham expand their drug networks to other areas, bringing with them serious criminal behaviour such as violence, exploitation and abuse. The term refers to the use of a single telephone number to order drugs, operated from outside the area. Vulnerable children and adults are recruited to transport cash and drugs all over the country, so the criminals behind it can remain detached and less likely to be detected.
Responding to the report, Merseyside’s Police Commissioner Cllr Emily Spurrell, who is also Chair of the region's Modern Slavery Network which works to tackle trafficking, said: “This report makes really troubling reading.
“Children are among the most vulnerable in our communities. They deserve to be protected and supported and that means there needs to a coordinated, coherent strategy developed at a national level to prevent child trafficking.
“Here on Merseyside, we are working hard to protect children from exploitation, in particular County Lines exploitation. New protocols have been created by the police and five local safeguarding boards, to continue the fight against this form of abuse and address the issue of missing children. We were also the first area in the country to have a dedicated support service for children who have been affected by County Lines, delivered by Catch22 as part of the Commissioner’s Victim Care Merseyside service.
“This work needs to be supported on a national level by a strategy which is properly thought and appropriately funded, ensuring all agencies have the resources they need to provide the specialist support required to safeguard potential victims and support young people who have fallen prey to ruthless criminals.”
Jasmine O’Connor, CEO of Anti-Slavery International said: “The rate of children trafficked in the UK has more than doubled in a year. Having no clear plan in place to prevent child trafficking in the UK when we literally find over 2,000 of children in a year – and rising – who fall victims of ruthless criminals, should shame this Government”.
“Child trafficking is a form of abuse that takes advantage of children’s vulnerabilities. Just going after the traffickers is not going to solve this problem.”
“To truly tackle and prevent child trafficking in this country, we need to create support networks that can make children and their families resilient to being coerced, that are able to spot the worrying signs quickly, and that can provide specialised support for children who have already been trafficked.”
Read the full report here.