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:

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific