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Major new report identifies insecure immigration status as a key risk factor for modern slavery among children and young adults


ECPAT UK and Rights Lab says research reveals alarming reality of child modern slavery in UK

Date of Publication:
05 February 2024

A major new report was published last week by ECPAT UK (Every Child Protected Against Trafficking) and the University of Nottingham's Rights Lab examining the prevention and identification of children and young adults experiencing, or at risk of, modern slavery in the UK.

Report coverYou can download the 68-page report here.

ECPAT UK says the report highlights the failure to prevent the exploitation of children in the UK and the inadequacy of responses once children have been subjected to harm. Rights Lab's Dr Ergul Celiksoy noted that thousands of children across the UK are being subjected to modern slavery and human trafficking every year.

The wide-ranging report briefly considers issues around immigration. ECPAT UK and Rights Lab find that insecure immigration status is a major risk factor for modern slavery among young people.

The report states: "A key risk factor raised across the literature is the impact of unstable immigration status on increasing vulnerability to exploitation, with a significant increase in vulnerability for unaccompanied children seeking asylum (Independent AntiSlavery Commissioner & The University of Nottingham Right's Lab, 2021; Setter, 2019; Beddoe, 2021; Harvey et al., 2015; UNHCR & British Red Cross, 2022). Of course, immigration status is identified as a risk factor for non-UK nationals. This was echoed within interviews, with concerns highlighting differential treatment of missing episodes and exploitation dependant on race; suggesting that missing episodes and exploitation of [children and young adults] from a white British background are responded to with more urgency …. In addition, interviews highlighted the placement of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in unsafe and inappropriate accommodation, the instability of immigration status, the lack of protective guardians, and the isolation experienced by unaccompanied [children and young adults]."

ECPAT UK and Rights Lab note that recent legislative measures such as the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 and Illegal Migration Act 2023 may further increase risks by preventing victims from coming forward due to fear of removal. The fear of removal creates a significant barrier to disclosure, as individuals may hesitate to share information about their exploitation due to the imminent threat of being removed from the UK.

"These regressive measures have followed from significant decline of political commitment and prioritisation regarding child modern slavery, and an increase in an anti-immigration political rhetoric not substantiated by evidence", the report says.

Amongst the report's recommendations is a call for the Home Office to ensure that immigration enforcement functions do not increase the risk of modern slavery for children and young people.

In addition, the report calls on local authorities to ensure that child victims transitioning into adulthood, particularly those with irregular immigration status, receive specialist modern slavery support as part of their entitlement as care leavers. ECPAT UK and Rights Lab said the Home Office must ensure that child victims, who are not former looked after children, access quality support through the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) when transitioning into adulthood, providing them with the necessary services and support to meet their needs at this crucial stage.