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Safeguarding children who may be trafficked

To be used in conjunction with the Wales Safeguarding Procedures

Who is this practice guide for?

This guide is primarily for practitioners working with children (up to the age of 18).

This includes those working in early years, social care, education, health, the police, youth offending and youth, community and family support services (including the third sector) and foster care and residential care.

What is this guide for?

Safeguarding children is a responsibility shared by everyone in contact with children and young people.

The Wales Safeguarding Procedures support individuals and agencies across Wales to understand their roles and responsibilities in keeping children and adults safe. They support a consistent approach to safeguarding practice and procedures across Wales.

This practice guide provides additional information about safeguarding responses when a child may be have been trafficked. It should be used in conjunction with the Wales Safeguarding Procedures.

Effective safeguarding arrangements in every local authority area should be underpinned by two key principles:

There are some issues which are common across safeguarding practice guides and some which are specific to the safeguarding issue being considered:


Child Trafficking consists of 3 components

Action recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt, of a child which includes an element of movement from one place to another

Exploitation There is evidence or reasonable cause to believe that a child is suffering abuse through sexual exploitation, criminal exploitation, forced labour or domestic servitude, slavery, financial exploitation, illegal adoption, removal of organs of the child (see appendices)

And involves a child It occurs to those up to the age of 18 years old.

Introduction and evidence base

Indicators that a child may have been trafficked

There are lots of different indicators of trafficking and exploitation which should lead to the reporting of a child at risk and initiate a child protection enquiry. Only one indicator may be identified or there may be many indicators. A range of different people in the child’s life may have suspicions or information about a single but different indicator. Therefore it is important that any concern is reported as a safeguarding issue straight away so that further information can be sought from all of the agencies in the child’s life.

The indicators should assist first responders in making a primary assessment of whether the individual encountered may be a potential child victim of modern slavery/human trafficking; and whether a National Referral Mechanism referral form needs to be completed.

Professionals and practitioners in contact with children are encouraged to familiarise themselves with the potential indicators of trafficking or modern slavery outlined in the Child NRM Form


Things that children may say and ways they may behave:

Physical indicators of exploitation:

Indicators related to the movement of a child from one place to another:

Indicators of exploitation and control by another person:

Indicators related to documentation and personal details:

Further risk indicators:

Indicators to be alert to in health settings

Professionals and practitioners working in health settings will often have contact with people for a limited period through a clinic, Accident and Emergency department visit or short medical appointment. They should be aware of the following health related indicators where the child:

School registration

Children trafficked into the country may be registered at a school for a term or longer, before being moved to another part of the UK or abroad. This pattern of registration and de-registration may be an indicator that a child has been trafficked. It has been identified as a particular concern in schools situated near ports of entry, but you must be alert to this possibility in all schools. However, it is important to bear in mind not all children who go missing from education have been victims of trafficking. For example, there may be instances of children from communities that move around – Gypsy, Roma, traveller or migrant families – who collectively go missing from school.

Child victims who claim asylum

Some children who are under the control of a trafficker may say they are unaccompanied when claiming asylum. They might have entered the UK with a trafficker who may or may not be a family member. In such cases the trafficker may have told the child that by doing so they will be granted permission to stay in the UK. Children who are UK nationals are also trafficked.

Children who have been trafficked may find it difficult to tell anyone what's happened to them4

They may also tell their stories with obvious errors, inconsistencies or a lack of reality. Many victims of child trafficking don’t speak English. Children are often too scared to speak out. They may be frightened of:

They may also feel very guilty or ashamed about the abuse they’ve suffered. Some traffickers compose stories for victims to learn in case they are approached by the authorities. If a child is suffering from trauma, they may have difficulty in recalling details or have blanks in their memory.

Consent of child victims

Child first responders

Under the Modern Slavery Act 2015 victims of trafficking or slavery should be referred to the National Referral Mechanism

In principle all agencies and organisations who find themselves with grounds for concern that a child may be a victim of human trafficking have a statutory responsibility for identifying the person as a possible victim and referring them to responsible authorities and support providers. Potential child victims do not need to give consent for the referral into the NRM.

This does not replace safeguarding duties. If anyone suspects that a child may have been trafficked the child must be referred to Social Services as a child at risk under Part 7 of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act.

For children, a formal referral into the NRM is made by a first responder. In Wales these are:

Independent Child Trafficking Advocates (ICTAs) are professionals who support children who have potentially been trafficked.

Making a referral to the ICTA Service

0800 043 4303: Call the 24/7 Referral Line on and you will get support to make the referral over the phone. : Or send a completed referral form to the secure mailbox.

A proportionate response

If the child is at immediate risk or you suspect they may go missing before their safety can be secured contact the Police on 999.

When a child has been reported under section 130, the local authority must consider whether there are grounds for carrying out an investigation under section 47 of the Children Act 1989.

Aftercare and safety planning for trafficked children

Planning for a child as they reach the age of 18



Unaccompanied asylum seeking child(ren) are defined by paragraph 352ZD of the Immigration Rules as a child who is:

Being unaccompanied is not necessarily a permanent status and may change, particularly if the child has family members in the UK.

Separated child

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a separated child as “a child who has been separated from both parents, or from their previous legal or customary caregiver, but not necessarily from other relatives. This may, therefore, include a child accompanied by other adult family members”.

The international definition of human trafficking is found in Article 3 of the Palermo Protocol to the UN Convention on Transnational and Organised Crime 2000, and was adopted in full by Article 4 of the European Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings (ECAT), ratified by the UK in 2009. This definition is:

a) "Trafficking in human beings" shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs;

b) The consent of a victim of “trafficking in human beings” to the intended exploitation set forth in subparagraph (a) of this article shall be irrelevant where any of the means set forth in subparagraph (a) have been used;

c) The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a child for the purpose of exploitation shall be considered "trafficking in human beings" even if this does not involve any of the means set forth in subparagraph (a) of this article;

d) Child shall mean anyone under 18 years of age

Forced labour

Forced labour is not restricted to a particular sector of the labour market but cases have been identified in these sectors:

Domestic servitude

Domestic servitude often involves people working in a household where they are:

Removal of organs (organ harvesting)

This type of trafficking involves exploiting people by their internal organs, which are used for transplant. Traffickers can force or deceive their victims into giving up an organ. Organs commonly traded are kidneys and liver, but any organ that cannot regenerate and can be removed and re-used could be the subject of this illegal trade.

Financial gain involving child victims

Most children are trafficked for financial gain. This can include payment from or to the child’s parents. In most cases, the trafficker also receives payment from those wanting to exploit the child once in the UK.

Traffickers specifically target impoverished communities to exploit their vulnerability. Poor and displaced families may hand over care of their children to traffickers who promise to provide them with a source of income, education or skills training, but ultimately exploit them.

Parents and relatives may also be involved in the exploitation of the child. The children are likely to be very loyal to their parents or carers so you must not expect them, of their own initiative, to seek protection against such people.

Illegal adoption

Not every illegal adoption would be considered exploitation. A child might, for example, be sold or adopted illegally but not exploited. The purposes of baby-selling and human trafficking/modern slavery are not necessarily the same. Some people assume that baby-selling for adoption is a form of human trafficking because it results in a profit by selling another person. However, illegally selling a child for adoption would not constitute trafficking where the child itself is not to be exploited. Baby-selling generally results in a situation that is non-exploitative with respect to the child. Where the ‘parents’ are looking to adopt the child and give it a loving home it should be considered as an illegal adoption case but not a case of trafficking or modern slavery.

Trafficking/modern slavery, on the other hand, implies exploitation of the victims. If an adopted child is subjected to coerced labour or sexual exploitation, then this can meet the exploitation element of human trafficking/modern slavery. Where the child is given to ‘parents’ via illegal adoption who intend to exploit the child then this may fall under an exploitation purpose that would be considered as an element of trafficking or modern slavery.

In some cases where the baby is forcibly removed from the mother, or the mother is forced or exploited to give birth, the mother may be a victim of trafficking or modern slavery.

Human smuggling is not human trafficking

The Competent Authority must not confuse human trafficking with human smuggling Human smuggling is also called people smuggling.

Human smuggling occurs when an individual seeks the help of a facilitator to enter the UK illegally, and the relationship between both parties ends once the transaction ends. Many of those who enter the UK illegally do so by this route. Human smuggling is not a form of modern slavery.

The purpose of human smuggling is to move a person across a border illegally, and it is regarded as a violation of state sovereignty. The purpose of modern slavery is to exploit the victim for gain or other benefit and is regarded as a violation of that person’s freedom and integrity.

There are several factors which help distinguish smuggling and modern slavery (trafficking):

These irregularities may be the only indication that the child could be a victim of trafficking and/or modern slavery. Children who are in a trafficking situation are often very reluctant to give information, and often relate their experiences in an inconsistent way or with obvious errors. More often than not this will be because their stories are made up by their trafficker or modern slavery facilitator.

Children under 18 travelling unaccompanied by adults or with an adult who is not their parent should not be assumed to be victims of modern slavery just based on this factor alone, as their situation may be perfectly legitimate or unrelated to modern slavery. If a child referral is made where no indicators are present the Competent Authority should ask frontline staff to make additional enquiries as appropriate, which might establish whether or not any indicators of modern slavery are present.

Consent of child victims

Any child who is recruited, transported, transferred, harboured or received for the purposes of exploitation, or is directed to perform labour is considered to be a potential victim of modern slavery, whether or not they have been forced or deceived. This is because it is not considered possible for children to give informed consent.

Staff in the Competent Authority must consider any child who has been recruited, transported, transferred, harboured or received for the purpose of exploitation, as a victim of trafficking and/or modern slavery, whether or not they have been forced or deceived.

These organisations are there for all children and young people in Wales. Professionals and practitioners should let children know about these organisations and how to contact them.

Meic is the helpline service for children and young people up to the age of 25 in Wales. From finding out what’s going on in your local area to help dealing with a tricky situation, Meic will listen even when no-one else will. They won’t judge you and will help by giving you information, useful advice and the support you need to make a change. You can:

You can contact the Children's Commissioner for Wales Investigation and Advice service which is free and confidential. It’s there as a source of help and support if children and young people or those who care for them feel that a child’s been treated unfairly. You or you parent/carer can:

Childline is a free, private and confidential service where anyone under 19 can access support and advice. The Childline website has information and advice pages as well as tools to help you work through problems yourself. If you want to talk or chat to Childline you can:

If you want to talk to Childline in Welsh see

Information for parents and carers on supporting a child at risk of trafficking

Children and young people who have been trafficked or who are at risk of trafficking need the support of safe adults around them to keep them from coming to further harm.

Child trafficking happens when someone moves a child from one place to another so that they can exploit them for personal gain. Child trafficking is a form of child abuse.

Some children are trafficked into the UK from another country and may then be trafficked around different places in the UK. Some children who have been born and grown up in the UK are also trafficked between places in the UK. This can include the movement of children within their own communities.

The people who traffic children do so for personal gain and children may trafficked so that they can be exploited through Child Sexual Exploitation, Child Criminal Exploitation, Forced Labour.

A child who has experienced trafficking is likely to have been threatened by the people who have moved them, they may not have the words to explain what has happened to them and it may take them a long time to feel safe enough to talk about what has happened.

It is important that children are made to feel physically comfortable and emotionally safe.

The child will get support from the Independent Child Trafficking Advocate Service (ICTA) and they can offer you advice on keeping the child safe. They will come to meet the child and talk to them about the support they can provide.

Steps to take when a child or young person has been trafficked or is at risk of being trafficked

  1. The child will have a safety plan that has been agreed by professionals. It is very important that you follow the safety plan. At first this may involve restricting access to phones and the internet and not leaving the child alone. This is to reduce the risk that child traffickers can get in touch with them and cause them further harm.

  2. If the child goes missing you should contact Social Services and the Police immediately.

  3. You should give the police all the information you can about what the child, their history and anything that has happened just before they went missing.

Help and support

Independent Child Trafficking Advocates (ICTAs) are professionals who support children who have potentially been trafficked. They:

Social Services will make sure that the child is referred to the ICTA service.

The NSPCC and ECPAT UK have child friendly leaflets in different languages for trafficked children:

Certain frontline staff who encounter a potential victim modern slavery or human trafficking have a duty to notify the Home Office under Section 52 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 This requirement applies to the Police, Local Authorities, the National Crime Agency and the Gangmasters Labour and Abuse Authority. Supporting guidance and resources have been issued in relation to the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

Modern Slavery Act 2015 : documents and promotional material related to work to end modern slavery.

1 K. Shavev Greene and F. Toscano, 2016, Summit report: best practices and key challenges on interagency cooperation to safeguard unaccompanied children from going missing

2 House of Commons, Home Affairs Committee (2009) The Trade in Human Beings: Human Trafficking in the UK Sixth Report of Session 2008–09, Volume 1 London: House of Commons

3 CEOP (2010) Strategic Threat Assessment: Child Trafficking in the UK London: CEOP