Hundreds of children are slaves in UK, say charities

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Children, some only six years old, are arriving in the UK in their hundreds each year to work illegally in cannabis factories and sweatshops around the country, according to a report by a coalition of leading charities.

They come from as far afield as Africa, Asia and eastern Europe, trafficked by organised crime gangs in what is described by child campaigners as a "cruel and shocking exploitation of children".

Many are taken with the naïve blessing of parents who pay up to £3,000 in the hope that their children will have a better life than they can provide back home, reports The Sunday Telegraph.

The problem is claimed to be growing out of control and now a coalition of charities, including Unicef, NSPCC and Save the Children, are calling for urgent action by the Government.

The charities have produced a report for the Home Office that outlines the true extent of the crisis and contains their recommendations on what needs to be done to address it. The document states how there is no provision for the child victims. It accuses the Government of having failed to address the problem to date and often treating victims like suspects - focussing on how they came to be in the country.

Christine Beddoe, the director of End Child Prostitution, Pornography and Trafficking, called the practice "modern child slavery".

Charities want more resources to tackle the problem and say that a national strategy is needed. Chief among their demands is for Britain to ratify the European Convention against Trafficking in Human Beings. This would mean that children would be allowed to stay in the UK and recover, rather than simply being shipped back from where they were sent.