More children than adults flagged as potential slavery victims last year
More children than adults were flagged as potential victims of slavery for the first time last year due to county lines drug dealing, according to the annual report from the independent anti-slavery commissioner.
The commissioner, Dame Sara Thornton, found that during a few months in 2020, there were more children than adults referred to what is known as the national referral mechanism (NRM) – a facility that allows their trafficking claims to be explored and where they can access support.
“Despite lockdown, county lines exploitation of children has continued. Methods of recruitment have shifted online and models for distributing drugs have diversified,” the report states. It adds that children have become involved in violence, intimidation and cuckooing in the drugs market.
In 2020/21, 10,689 potential victims of modern slavery were referred to the NRM, 4,849 of them children. The figure was a reduction of 634 on the 2019/20 referral figure.
According to Crown Prosecution Service data, prosecutions for offences flagged as modern slavery decreased from 349 in 2019 to 267 in 2020 – a fall of 23 per cent. Over the same period, convictions reduced from 251 to 197 – a fall of 22 per cent.
Thornton’s report calls for substantial child protection activity to support exploited children and highlights a lack of safeguarding. Not prosecuting children and vulnerable adults exploited in modern slavery situations is not enough to protect them if safeguarding is not available too, it adds.
“I continue to have significant concerns about the safeguarding response for child victims of trafficking. Access to this specialist support for children should not be a postcode lottery,” the report states.
The pandemic heightened the risks for those already exploited, increased the risks that more people will face exploitation and has disrupted responses to the problem of trafficking. Brexit and the political focus on immigration also have the potential to impact on modern slavery, according to Thornton.
She said charities had raised concerns on behalf of non-UK trafficking victims that there was a risk victims may not come forward due to fears their information would be shared with immigration enforcement officials.