What happens to children rescued from modern-day slavery? Care’s Executive Chairman, Lyndon Bowring, says it’s a situation the government is finally tackling
Imagine being a teenager who has survived the nightmare of being trafficked from abroad and forced to work as a prostitute. Locked up for months or even years, beaten, abused and only able to cope with the horror of it all with the help of the drugs they are introduced to, one day, by some miracle, they are rescued. Police raid the place, arrest the traffickers and take the victims to a safe place.
Between 2005 and 2010 in the UK, something like this happened to 942 children. They were placed in local authority care and a whole new chapter of their lives began.
As well as safe, secure accommodation, they needed all kinds of other help: perhaps medical care, counselling, a chance to go to school, assistance in tracing their family, legal advice and support as they faced interviews with police and immigration authorities – many scarcely spoke any English.
What a bewildering experience for a young person alone in a foreign land. But the really shocking fact is that many of these children were anything but safe. One third of them vanished after being rescued – almost certainly tracked down and reclaimed by their traffickers.
“Imagine being a teenager who has survived the nightmare of being trafficked and forced to work as a prostitute…” *Picture posed by model.
Alongside other organisations Care has worked for many years to draw attention to the plight of young human trafficking victims. In 2011, a groundbreaking EU Directive required member states to ‘appoint a guardian or a representative for a child victim of trafficking in human beings from the moment the child is identified by the authorities’.
The UK was the second last country to sign up to it and our government has yet to consent to providing these dedicated child trafficking guardians to help victims get through the labyrinth of officialdom and provide much-needed reassurance at such a frightening time in their lives.
The Home Office is preparing its Modern Slavery Bill but the system of ‘personal advocates’ they are suggesting is an inadequate approach, which won’t effectively protect these incredibly vulnerable children.
Meanwhile, Lord Ian McColl, a Conservative member of the House of Lords, has worked untiringly to persuade them otherwise by bringing forward a series of Bills and amendments on this issue. A dedicated Christian, Lord McColl feels passionately about human trafficking, and Care has been privileged to assist him in his efforts to champion the issue over several years.
Last November he brought an amendment which was defeated by just 15 votes. So you can imagine how delighted we all were when on Monday April 7, the House of Lords overwhelmingly backed his amendment to the Immigration Bill to introduce specialist Child Trafficking Guardians for child victims! He won by 282 votes to 184!
At his request, many people backed Lord McColl and his colleagues with intercessory prayer and it was truly a significant victory.
Read this story and much more in the June issue of Direction
For these unfortunate girls and boys, having a friendly face – someone who understands the system and is able to support them and stand up for their best interests – would make all the difference. But it’s not quite over yet, as we still have to urge the government to accept the amendment when the Immigration Bill returns to the House of Commons before it can become law.
In 2009, The Guardian investigated the case of a children’s home beside Heathrow airport – 77 Chinese children had disappeared in three years from the 59-bed local authority block. Only four were ever found – two of them in brothels in the West Midlands.
Appointing Child Trafficking Guardians is not the complete answer but it would be a significant step forward in ensuring that child victims of trafficking in this country are properly cared for.