Hundreds of children at risk as police fail to track and prosecute traffickers

Study identifies 'tip of the iceberg' as vulnerable young are smuggled into Britain for fraud, cannabis farming, prostitution, and slavery

Criminals who traffic hundreds of children into and around the UK are not being adequately investigated or prosecuted, according to the country's leading child-protection unit.

Vulnerable children could be at risk thanks to a lack of knowledge and resources to catch their traffickers, a study from the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) reveals. The report says that public sector cuts could exacerbate the situation, with two specialist police units in effect already closed.

Hundreds of children are smuggled into Britain every year and are used for slavery, prostitution or other crimes, according to the CEOP research seen by The Independent on Sunday. At least 287 children were identified as "potential victims" of trafficking between March 2009 and February 2010, a figure that experts say is likely to be the "tip of the iceberg".

More than a third of these children were brought to Britain for the sex trade, while some 18 per cent were made to cultivate cannabis. Children were also smuggled to be used for benefit fraud, forced labour, street crime or as domestic servants.

Some 53 trafficked children – almost one in five of the victims – subsequently went missing from care. Of these, 42 are still recorded as missing.

The report will increase pressure on the Government to sign up to the EU directive on human trafficking, which would make it easier to prosecute traffickers and protect victims.

Appointing independent guardians for child-trafficking victims was recommended by the study, to help prevent so many going missing from care. This is also one of the conditions of an EU directive to which Britain has refused to sign up.

Vietnam was the most common of the 47 countries of origin for trafficked children. The study found 58 Vietnamese child victims, the majority of whom were boys aged 13 to 17, exploited as "gardeners" to cultivate cannabis plants in factories.

The CEOP study, called Strategic Threat Assessment: Child Trafficking in the UK, called on the police to do more to tackle the crime: "The number of trafficking investigations and successful prosecutions must increase in order to act as a deterrent to traffickers," it said. "There are only a handful of UK police forces which have units designated and trained in running investigations into trafficking."

Christine Beddoe, director of End Child Trafficking and Prostitution UK, said: "All indications show that this is just the tip of the iceberg. What is worrying is that so few police forces are identifying trafficked children and prosecuting the traffickers.

"The alarming number of Vietnamese children being trafficked into the UK, yet with no traffickers being arrested, is a disgrace and signals an urgent call to action for police across the UK. The Home Secretary should be responding to Parliament about why so little is being done to protect these vulnerable children."

The Government has said it will launch an "action plan" on trafficking in the spring.

Join The IoS campaign

The Independent on Sunday is campaigning to persuade the Government to sign up to the EU directive on human trafficking. The directive will strengthen our laws to protect victims, and make it easier to prosecute those who enslave them. Readers can call on David Cameron and Nick Clegg to do the right thing by signing the petition on the campaigning website 38 Degrees.

To sign the petition, go to: www.38degrees.org.uk/stop-trafficking

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...