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THE Tories cruel Borders Bill will have a “massively detrimental” impact on child trafficking victims, putting them further at risk of criminal exploitation, leading charities have warned.
More children are likely to go unidentified, unprotected and punished under contentious changes to modern day slavery laws in the Nationality and Borders Bill, the open letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel and Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi warns.
The letter, signed by eight leading children’s charities including the Children’s Society, comes ahead of the return of the Bill to the Commons tomorrow.
Measures in the Bill propose to raise the threshold potential victims of trafficking must meet in order for them to receive state support, such as benefits, housing and mental health support.
It also proposed to exclude those with criminal convictions who receive a jail sentence of over 12 months from receiving trafficking support.
Critics say the measures will increase the number of vulnerable people blocked from accessing trafficking support, including children.
The letter, published today, argues that children should be exempt from the proposals in the Bill on modern day slavery and trafficking, and expresses alarm over the government’s “assertion that there should be no special protections for children.”
Highlighting reports of Ukrainian child refugees falling at risk of trafficking and exploitation, the letter stresses: “Now is not the time to allow an adult-focused agenda to take priority over children’s rights and welfare, creating a dangerous and unlawful precedent.”
It comes as a new report by the Every Child Protected Against Trafficking and Missing People, both signatories of the letter, reveals that the country is already in the grip of a “child protection crisis” for those vulnerable to going missing.
The groups claim this will worsen under the Borders Bill.
Figures in the When Harm Remains report show that in 2020, nearly a third of all trafficked children in care went missing — an increase of 25 per cent since 2018.
This compares to one in 10 looked-after children in England and around one in 200 children overall in Britain.
Children who are suspected of being victims of trafficking or modern slavery also rose by 22 per cent, from 960 in 2018 to 1,231 in 2020.
Experts said the “very concerning” rise contrasts with the decrease in the overall number of children going missing amid the national lockdowns to curb the spread of coronavirus in 2020.
There was also a 10 per cent rise in the number of unaccompanied children in local authority care – from 4,749 in 2018 to 5,263 in 2020, with 13 per cent going missing in 2020.
Jane Hunter, senior research and impact manager at Missing People, said the figures show no improvement over recent years, demonstrating: “It is very clear that more needs to be done to safeguard these children.”
The Home Office has a safeguarding duty to promote and protect the welfare of all separated children in their care.
However, the report states that professionals and children have reported a culture of disbelief, with officials in some areas viewing instances where children go missing from care as “inevitable.”
These views can hinder effective safeguarding responses, the report notes. The groups say that incidents where children go missing should be viewed as an indicator of exploitation or re-trafficking.
ECPAT UK chief executive Patricia Durr said: “It is hard to understand why the government is currently creating laws that will make this problem worse and will put child victims of trafficking at risk of further exploitation.
“There is still time for the government to shield children from the dangerous proposals on modern slavery in the Nationality and Borders Bill, and to make clear that all decisions must be taken in children’s best interests.”
A government spokesperson said: “We are committed to tackling the heinous crime of modern slavery and ensuring that vulnerable individuals, especially children get access to the right support.
“This is what the Nationality and Borders Bill will deliver, through enhanced legal aid provision and by giving temporary leave to specific victims, those who’ve suffered this horrendous crime will be able to begin the process of recovery and rebuilding their lives.”
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