Child Trafficking



Child trafficking typically exposes children to continuous and severe risks of significant harm. It involves the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a child for the purpose of exploitation. This definition holds whether or not coercion or deception was utilised as children are not considered able to give informed consent to such activity. This definition also applies to activity within a country as well as between countries. This should be noted as a child or young person coming to the attention of services may have been trafficked from another part of the UK.


Throughout the world children are trafficked for numerous purposes within and between countries and continents. While exploitation varies, children trafficked for one type of exploitation are often sold into another making simple categorisation problematic. Children are often exploited in relation to:


  • child labour exploitation – such as cooking and cleaning in restaurants;
  • domestic servitude;
  • enforced criminal activity – such as street crime, fraud or cannabis cultivation;
  • illegal adoption;
  • underage, servile or forced marriage (see the section on honour-based violence and forced marriage in the chapter on Indicators of Risk for more information);
  • benefit fraud;
  • debt bondage;
  • begging;
  • drug trafficking/decoys;
  • sexual abuse; and
  • sexual exploitation.


In 2009, the Scottish Government published ‘Safeguarding Children in Scotlandwho may have been trafficked’, a guidance report outlining the procedures to be adopted in child-trafficking cases.  It emphasises the need to consider the child’s needs first and foremost, and to acknowledge that all child trafficking cases are examples of child abuse.  It is vitally important that these vulnerable children are identified as early as possible and safeguarded from further harm. 


If any agency, individual practitioner or volunteer suspects a child may have been trafficked they should immediately contact social work or the police.  They may also contact the NSPCC Child Trafficking Advice and Information Line for advice (0800 1077057), or the UK Human Trafficking Centre (01142523891).



There are two distinctive issues related to child trafficking that makes handling more complex than many other child protection cases: identification; and wider legal concerns.


Child trafficking can be difficult to identify. By its very nature, the activity is criminal and hidden from view, so practitioners need to be sensitive to the indicators of trafficking when investigating concerns particular children.


It is essential to take timely and decisive action where child trafficking is suspected because of the high risk of the child being moved.  Action should not wait until a child discloses, agrees or perceives they have been trafficked to initiate procedures.  Children, apart from being threatened to remain silent, often are not aware they are victims of trafficking.


Trafficking raises important legal issues that require the involvement of agencies with UK competence. As a signatory to The Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings, the UK has a responsibility to implement a specific mechanism for identifying and recording cases of child trafficking. This formal procedure, known as the National Referral Mechanism, became operational on 1 April 2009. From this date, new arrangements came into force to allow all cases of human trafficking to be referred by frontline agencies for assessment by designated Competent Authorities. In the UK the competent authorities are the UK Human Trafficking Centre (UKHTC) and a linked authority within UK Border Agency for cases of immigration and asylum.


Where a child/young person is suspected of having been trafficked, the child's safety remains the principal consideration and all necessary actions and inter-agency child protection procedures should be followed to ensure they are protected.


In cases where a child may have been trafficked, their carer may be involved in the trafficking or exploitation. Seeking their consent could put the child at further risk or lead to their being moved elsewhere. Unless there is clear evidence that seeking consent would in no way harm the child, referring agencies should not seek the carer's consent.


The key source of information is the national guidance on child trafficking, issued in 2009 by the Scottish Government, Safeguarding Children in Scotland Who May Have Been Trafficked, which provides full details around definitions, indicators, child protection processes and roles and responsibilities of agencies.


Human Trafficking Awareness eLearning module

Open to all agencies with workforce groupings/individuals who require an awareness of:

  • The issues that lead to children and/or adults becoming involved in human trafficking, and
  • Some of the mechanisms in place to support children and/or adults affected by human trafficking.

A guide to accessing the module is available here.


For further information visit: the Scottish Government website.  The following resources may be helpful:


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