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McColl LordLord McColl of Dulwich, CBE is a British surgeon, professor, politician and Conservative member of the House of Lords. He has been an advocate for the survivors of human trafficking in the House of Lords for many years, bringing forward several Private Member's Bills on the issue.

Human
trafficking has been a blight on British society for many years, yet still not
enough is being done to help vulnerable children who are victims of this
hideous crime.

A
new report, ‘Still at Risk’, released today by the Refugee Council and The
Children’s Society, shows that too many of these children are
not being protected by the very agencies that are supposed to be supporting
them. These are children
who have been forced into a range of slavery and subjected to such
horrific abuse as domestic servitude, forced criminality and sexual
exploitation.

Often, they do not even know they are
being trafficked or that what is happening to them is wrong.  

Their
traffickers threaten them with physical violence, frighten them into not trusting
the police or strangers, and tell them if they try to get help that their
families will be hurt. Despite the fear, some do escape and try to get help.

Sadly
the report’s findings show that our care system is failing to protect and
support them adequately. Instead of finding safety and being
provided with the specialist care needed as traumatised children, some are sent
to prison or detention centres.


In part, this is because their
immigration status is taking centre stage, rather than their needs as
vulnerable children and victims of abuse. As
a result, for some, their age is doubted and the information given on the false
documents provided by traffickers, is believed. Because of this, they are put
in inappropriate housing without proper full-time care. This leaves them
vulnerable to being re-trafficked and at risk of further abuse.

It
is a shocking indictment of our priorities as a nation that we should take such
poor care of these extremely vulnerable children. They must
get the support they
need as child victims of a brutal crime, regardless of their
nationality, age or immigration status. Anything less is unacceptable.   

A
key way forward to ensure that all children can get the support they need, as
proposed in this report, is by providing all children who are potential victims
of trafficking, with an independent, trusted adult. Someone
who is on their side, who can guide them through what is an extremely complex
and frightening system, and who can ensure that they understand what is
happening to them. This will help them get housing appropriate to their age and
needs, so they can recover from the abuse they have been subjected to and be
kept safe from further exploitation.

The
argument for guardians has been well-made by a number of expert bodies. The
Joint Committee for Human Rights in its inquiry into the rights of unaccompanied
migrant children and young people recently called for a guardianship pilot to
be conducted in England and Wales. The US State Department, in its
comprehensive overview of trafficking in 188 countries, has also recommended
that the UK establish a system of guardianship for unaccompanied foreign
children.

The
Government has an ideal opportunity to see this proposal through as it prepares
its Modern Slavery Bill. It is vital the Government takes bold steps to
implement the report’s call for specialist guardians for trafficked children,
and to address the other gaps in care identified in order to protect child
victims of trafficking.

For
more about the report’s findings, see ‘Still at Risk: A review of support for trafficked
children’
published
by the Refugee Council and The Children’s Society.

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