Human trafficking rising in UK, warn anti-slavery groups

New figures show nearly 1,000 victims in 2011 and suggest children are being forced into crime

The response to child trafficking has been criticised as inadequate and breeding a false sense of security – as new statistics show the trade in humans into the UK is growing.

Last year, the British authorities learned of 946 victims, compared with 710 in 2010, the inter-departmental ministerial group on human trafficking said. Trafficking gangs in China, Nigeria, eastern Europe and Vietnam are the most prolific.

Anti-slavery groups have warned that Government failures have led to "significant steps back" in tackling trafficking. There is currently no official figure for the number of victims.

However, the report said 712 adult victims and 234 child victims were reported last year to the National Referral Mechanism, the official body that identifies and looks after those caught up in trafficking.

It is thought the increase could be explained by improvements in identifying victims, although campaigners say many people choose not to come forward for fear of being deported.

The report suggested an increase in the number of children being forced into crime. It also detailed two cases of people trafficked for illegal organ removals, but they were detected and stopped before the operations.

Detective Inspector Kevin Hyland, of the Metropolitan Police, said: "The vast majority of them think they're coming to a better life in the UK."

The UK's leading police child protection agency yesterday proposed more checks to deter British sex offenders from abusing children abroad.

Britons who teach and volunteer overseas should be subject to Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks to deter sex offenders from travelling abroad to target young victims, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (Ceop) agency proposed.

One in five convicted or suspected sex offenders moves abroad to give them access to children in schools, orphanages or other institutions, according to figures released by Ceop.

The new international certificate is designed to prevent paedophiles banned from working at home from exploiting the demand for English-speaking workers in countries where vetting procedures are less stringent.

But Christine Beddoe, director of End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (Ecpat) UK, urged the authorities to go further and allow employers to apply directly for full CRB checks on potential recruits.

"There is a danger it could give a false sense of security to employers – particularly small schools or charities which are little less aware of formal procedures," she said. "This could be seen as a fantastic tool for sex offenders to present to an employer and say 'I'm really safe'.

"I would like us to take the next step by opening up the CRB check for proper checking for international schools and charities," she added.

Ceop, which has worked with the Association of Chief Police Officers' Criminal Records Office to launch the new certificates, said they could be requested for those UK nationals already in paid or voluntary employment in other countries.