Efforts to curb human trafficking for sexual exploitation in Britain and Europe are being hindered by a lack of information about its true scale, a parliamentary committee said today.
Without reliable data it is impossible to assign resources to tackle the problem, and front-line officials dealing with the issue need much better training, the Commons Home Affairs Committee added in a report.
"What we are seeing is in effect a resurgence of a type of slave trade, yet we have no good information on the scale of the problem, enforcement is patchy, prosecution rates are low and there is little protection for victims," said committee chairman Keith Vaz.
The committee said that on conservative estimates there are at least 5,000 trafficking victims in Britain.
Estimates of the number trafficked into the European Union each year range widely between 100,000 and 800,000.
Most victims are young women or children smuggled across borders for sexual exploitation, with children also being used to commit street crimes such as begging.
The committee said it was particularly alarmed by accounts that traffickers may be using Britain's care home system for vulnerable children as "holding pens for their victims until they are ready to pick them up."
The committee said the Metropolitan Police Human Trafficking Unit and the Gangmasters Licensing Authority are recognised internationally for their ability to detect and rescue victims.
But not all European Union member states are cooperating with the continent-wide Europol force or taking practical measures to combat trafficking.
The report's publication coincides with a pan-European conference on the issue hosted in London by the committee.Reuse content