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Report finds trafficked and unaccompanied children remain at high risk of going missing


ECPAT UK and Missing People update earlier 2016 report following new data from FOI requests

Date of Publication:
14 January 2019

Report finds trafficked and unaccompanied children remain at high risk of going missing

14 January 2019

ECPAT UK and Missing People last month released an in-depth report on trafficked and unaccompanied children going missing from care in the UK.

The 60-page report can be downloaded here. It is an update of an earlier 2016 report, and ECPAT UK and Missing People find in their new report that child victims of trafficking and unaccompanied children remain at an alarmingly high risk of going missing.

Using new data based on responses to Freedom of Information Requests (FOIs), the report finds that in 2017:

• 1,015 children were reported by local authorities as identified or suspected victims of trafficking, an increase of 58% (up from 590) from 2014–15.

• 4,765 children were reported as being unaccompanied, which is no significant change from 2014-15 (4,744 unaccompanied children)

• 24% of all identified or suspected victims of trafficking went missing from care (246 of 1,015).

• 15% of all unaccompanied children went missing from care (729 of 4,756).

• 190 children who have gone missing have not been found.

While data on the nationalities of the children who were identified as going missing was very limited from the FOI responses, Vietnamese children were recorded as most likely to go missing.

ECPAT UK and Missing People say the report's findings "show that this severe child protection issue still requires urgent attention by national and local governments, with a focus on safeguarding children and preventing them from going missing. Investment is needed in robust safeguarding measures and the provision of specialist support for these children."

Catherine Baker, Senior Research, Policy and Campaigns Officer at ECPAT UK, said the latest data paints a bleak picture of continuing failures to safeguard trafficked and unaccompanied children.

Baker added: "Ultimately, each missing incident represents a safeguarding failure. Too often these children are treated as criminals or immigration offenders, rather than vulnerable children requiring support. Too often, they are placed in unsafe accommodation, or have not been made to feel safe by those responsible for their care. Each one of these children deserves specialist support, as well as an independent, legal guardian to support them, yet neither are currently guaranteed for every child. We also need every local authority to be systematically recording this information, with central Government collating and reporting on it regularly. The latest figures should be a wakeup call to this Government, to urgently prioritise resourcing frontline services so that these extremely vulnerable children are protected from harm."

Jane Hunter, Senior Research and Impact Manager at Missing People, said: "This report shows that trafficked and unaccompanied children continue to be failed by the system which should be safeguarding and protecting them. While every child is at risk when missing, trafficked and unaccompanied children are particularly vulnerable, and may go missing back into a highly exploitative situation to those they were trafficked by, or others. The fact that these children are going missing in such high proportions and so frequently points to the fact that opportunities to identify risk and put measures in place to keep them safe are being missed by local authorities and other professionals. This leaves these children extremely vulnerable and at high risk.

"Missing People is concerned by these figures, and by the fact that some local authorities are still unable to provide information about the total numbers of trafficked children in their care or the number who go missing. It is worrying that some do not know the picture in their local area, and that there remains no centrally collated, national data allowing a country-wide understanding about this shocking situation."