Over 140 children identified as sex slaves in 2013

1,746 potential victims of human trafficking from 112 countries were reported to the authorities last year, according to the National Crime Agency

More than 140 children were identified as being trafficked for sexual abuse last year as the numbers of people rescued from being held as slaves soared by nearly half.

The child victims included 88 youngsters brought in to Britain from overseas, most commonly from Vietnam and Albania, and another 56 who were UK-born.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) said 1,746 potential victims of human trafficking from 112 countries were reported to the authorities last year, a rise of 47 per cent on 2012.

Sixty-four per cent were female and 36 per cent were male, while 26 per cent were aged under 18.

The increase emerged as the Home Office prepares for a major crack-down on modern-day slavery. Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has said she wants tough legislation in place to combat it by the time of the next election in May 2015.

The NCA disclosed that half of the women smuggled into the country worked as prostitutes, with smaller numbers forced into domestic servitude or labouring.

Nearly two-thirds of the men were put to unpaid work, while 18 adult men and 90 boys were brought in to work in the sex industry.

Albania was the most common country of origin for victims, followed by Nigeria, Vietnam and Romania.

Liam Vernon, the head of the NCA’s UK human trafficking centre, said: “This is a crime which affects some of society’s most vulnerable people, and some victims will remain undetected.”

He added: “The NCA is committed to relentlessly disrupting what is a criminal trade in human misery.”

Karen Bradley, a Home Office Minister, said: “These figures are unlikely to show the full scale of modern slavery, nor the human suffering behind each statistic. That is why we are taking action on a number of fronts including raising public awareness.”