Today marks a key point in the fight against slavery in the UK. With the Modern Slavery Act coming into force, law enforcement will have greater powers to target and prosecute traffickers and additional protection will be provided to the victims of this brutal crime.
This new law, plus the Prime Minister's call for action to stop child trafficking from Vietnam, once again shines a light on a growing crime that all too often is missed or misunderstood.
Huge numbers of children are being trafficked, not just from Vietnam but from countries across Africa, Asia, Europe as well as within the UK. In 2013, the Government identified 2,744 trafficking cases - 604 were children. But it is known that the actual number is much higher..
Children are being forced into a range of horrific abuse, including sexual exploitation, domestic work and work in cannabis factories. We know from our work with these children that, despite increased awareness of this crime, too often they are not being correctly identified and instead are treated as criminals and sent to prison for the illegal work in which they were found.
The action that the Prime Minister has called for - cracking down on the trafficking of Vietnamese children by ordering big British businesses to set out annually what they are doing to stop slavery and human trafficking in their supply chains - is important, but it is not enough. The Government needs to take steps to make sure these children, once they are in the UK, are properly protected and supported as is promised by the Modern Slavery Act.
In 2014, the Government began piloting the use of independent guardians who act as champions for these children, helping them access the help they need and supporting them though the complex system they face. Although this marked a significant step forward in protecting some trafficked children in the UK, it is only for those who have been identified. Those who have not been recognised as victims of this crime cannot get this crucial support, despite their need, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
For the Modern Slavery Act to be effective at protecting all trafficked children and those at risk of this abuse, it is crucial that all children who find themselves alone in this country -- including many who are fleeing war and violence -- are assigned an independent legal guardian.
Without an adult to protect their interests, many risk abuse or face a hostile climate of suspicion and doubt. This denies them the help and protection they need. It is vital these children at risk of abuse or who have already been exploited are able recover in safety from the traumas they have suffered.