The National Referral Mechanism (NRM), the framework for identifying victims of human trafficking or modern slavery and ensuring they receive the right support, had 2,121 child referrals in 2017. Exploitation on any level is completely unjustifiable, but when it involves a child it is chillingly deplorable.
I am aware of the recent concerning report from ECPAT UK and Missing People that 24% of all identified or suspected child victims of trafficking went missing from care in 2017. In the same year, 15% of all unaccompanied children went missing from care.
I completely agree that unaccompanied refugee children are highly vulnerable to trafficking and it is simply unacceptable that trafficked children may be unable to access the support needed to recover from their traumatic experiences.
An independent review of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 is currently underway, set to report back to the Home Secretary by the end of March 2019. This review will consider section 48 of the Act which provided for independent child trafficking advocates.
Independent child trafficking advocates are being introduced to represent and support children where there are reasonable grounds to believe they are victims of human trafficking. However, this service is only due to be available in one third of local authorities across England and Wales by April 2019. I will follow developments in relation to this closely, as well as in relation to the outcome of the review.
I would like to see the UK Government commit to urgently providing additional resources to local authorities in order to enable them to provide guaranteed specialist support for child victims of trafficking. I pay tribute to the work of ECPAT UK for its campaigning on this matter. As requested I have written to the Home Secretary and as soon as I have received a response I will contact you again.