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UK News

Christian children's charity calls out 'poor quality' of work in tackling child exploitation

by Tola Mbakwe

The Children's Society has warned that there needs to be major improvements in addressing modern day slavery among children. 

The Christian children's society has said it's vital professionals and the public look out for warning signs and act. 

Its comments come as an expert has warned the number of people being trafficked into the UK could increase as criminals look to exploit those hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic. 

Unseen UK chief executive Andrew Wallis said thousands of victims arrive in the country each year through traffickers, having been promised a chance to escape poverty or support their families back home financially.

But instead, they find themselves at the mercy of criminal gangs who force them into illegal work to pay off inflated debts while threatening them with violence.

Mr Wallis, whose charity aims to end modern slavery, said he believed the multi-billion-pound global human trafficking industry would eventually become "more lucrative" than the drugs trade.

And he warned that more people could be at risk of falling victim to traffickers in the aftermath of the pandemic.

Iryna Pona, policy manager at The Children's Society, said: "Sadly those people out to groom children and subject them to horrific exploitation have continued to operate under successive lockdowns, changing their tactics where necessary, for example by targeting them online. 
 
"Perpetrators have tried to take advantage of vulnerabilities which may have arisen or been made worse by the restrictions including loneliness, poverty and tensions and conflict at home.  
 
"Children may have been manipulated to think they have made a choice or they may have been threatened - leaving them too scared to tell someone what is happening.  
 
"That's why it's vital that professionals, parents, carers and the public look out for signs and changes in behaviour which may indicate children have been exploited, understand they are victims and get them the help they desperately need. 
 
"There must be a real focus from police on going after those people exploiting children to disrupt their activities and bring them to justice."

Home Office figures show there were 10,627 potential victims of modern slavery referred to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) last year - a 52 per cent increase from 2018.

Unseen UK received a further 7,000 calls to its helpline over the same period, Mr Wallis said.
However, a report by the Centre for Social Justice in July this year estimated there could be at least 100,000 victims of modern slavery in the UK.

Ms Pona insisted that more work needs to be done on a professional level to tackle the issue. 

"Sustained investment is needed in training for professionals and in both early help services to identify risks and help children before grooming escalates and those services which support young people who have sadly been exploited to stay safe and recover," she said. 
 
"We have found that knowledge among professionals of the NRM the system for identifying victims of modern slavery is patchy and that referrals are often of a poor quality. This needs to change. Every child should be referred to the NRM where exploitation is suspected and we want the Government to give all children - including victims of both domestic and international trafficking - access to an independent child trafficking guardian who can help them get the support they need. 
 
"The Government should also use its proposed Online Harm Bill to make the online world a safer place for children and young people and protect them from grooming for criminal as well as sexual exploitation." 
 
 The Home Office said the UK's modern slavery legislation had introduced a maximum life sentence for traffickers, as well as "enhanced protection" for victims.

"We are doing all we can to stop ruthless criminals intent on profiteering from vulnerable migrants," a spokeswoman said.

"We continue to work with counterparts overseas to reduce exploitation and bring perpetrators to justice."

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