Asylum seeking children: *207 missing* #ECPAT #UK Report

Alarming number of trafficked children going missing from care – new ECPAT UK report

We are nobody in this country.” – Trafficked child interviewed for new ECPAT UK and Missing People report

15 November 2016

Trafficked and unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are going missing from UK care at an “alarmingly high” rate, leading charities ECPAT UK and Missing People have said in a new report released today.

The report, Heading back to harm: A study on trafficked and unaccompanied children going missing from care in the UK  has found that more than a quarter of all trafficked children and over 500 unaccompanied asylum-seeking children went missing at least once in the year to September 2015, while 207 have not been found.

Data collected from 217 local authorities across the UK reveals a “deeply concerning” inconsistency in identifying and recording information on these vulnerable children, with many unable to report on overall numbers of trafficked and unaccompanied children in their care.

These serious data collection flaws, along with the high numbers of trafficked and unaccompanied children going missing, suggest that the UK’s wider child protection response is inadequate, leaving children vulnerable to re-trafficking and abuse.

The report calls on national and local government to reform the child protection system by immediately introducing child-specific training on child trafficking, unaccompanied children and missing; urgently rolling out the national independent child trafficking advocates scheme; resourcing safe and appropriate accommodation with victim-centred safety planning; improving data recording on trafficking and missing; and implementing a coordinated national, regional and local response to this startling trend.

Heading back to harm: A study on trafficked and unaccompanied children going missing from care in the UK analyses Freedom of Information request data from 217 local authorities on trafficked and unaccompanied children going missing from care in the year to September 2015. It also draws on information collected from two focus groups with children and young people who have been trafficked, as well as online surveys of practitioners and policy makers.

Thurrock, Hillingdon, Croydon, Kent County Council and Surrey had the highest numbers of trafficked and unaccompanied children going missing. The top three nationalities of missing trafficked children were Vietnamese, British and Albanian, while Albanian, Afghan, Vietnamese and Eritrean children accounted for the highest proportion of missing unaccompanied children. 

London, the South East, East Anglia and the East and West Midlands accounted for 75% (445) of the 590 trafficked children and 90% (4,267) of the total 4,744 of unaccompanied children.

Capture.PNGChloe Setter, Head of Advocacy, Policy & Campaigns, ECPAT UK, said:

“For too long, children who are at risk of exploitation, or who have been trafficked, have gone missing from care – sometimes repeatedly, sometimes forever. It is a national disgrace that this problem has remained neglected and these children rendered invisible by poor data collection and national coordination. Heading back to harm has attempted to shine a light on this problem and, in doing so, has unearthed an alarming trend of our most vulnerable children disappearing; hundreds of them never to be found. We must not accept this as a reality any longer. Every child that goes missing is a failure in our duty to protect them from harm. The government must listen to the voices and experiences of young people, and urgently redress the gaps in our protection systems that allow traffickers to flourish and children to suffer.”

Susannah Drury, Director of Policy and Research, Missing People, said:

“Any child who goes missing is at risk of harm, from sleeping rough or being a victim of crime or exploitation.  Trafficked and unaccompanied children are especially vulnerable and in greater need of protection. It is therefore vital that any trafficked or unaccompanied child who goes missing is treated as high risk by the police and other agencies and that finding them and making them safe is always prioritised over any questions about their immigration status or criminal activity. It is also crucial that these vulnerable children are treated with respect and compassion by all professionals to create a culture of trust in their uncertain and unsettled lives.” 

The report will be launched in Parliament with Sarah Newton, Minister for Vulnerability, Safeguarding and Countering Extremism, on Tuesday 15th November 2016. SOURCE ECPAT

Hundreds of ‘invisible’ missing children failed by system, claims report  

 15 Nov 2016 

Recording practices have been branded “a national disgrace” as figures reveal that almost three in ten trafficked children in care went missing in 2014/15.

A joint study by charities ECPAT UK and Missing People has found that 167 trafficked children went missing from care homes in the 12 months to September 2015.

Over the same period, 593 unaccompanied children from abroad went missing, and 207 have not been found since.

However, the charities claim that the UK’s response to these figures has been inadequate as they found that many of these cases are passing under the radar.

The research, released on Tuesday (November 15), used Freedom of Information data from 217 local authorities and focus groups with young victims of trafficking. It found that
  • 590 children in care were identified as or suspected of being trafficked over the period, and 4,744 were unaccompanied.
  • Five regions – London, the South East, East Anglia and the East and West Midlands – accounted for three quarters of all child trafficking victims and 90 per cent of the unaccompanied children.
  • Welsh local authorities reported that none of their 14 trafficked children and two of their 57 unaccompanied children disappeared.
  • Similar figures were reported in Scotland, where two of 48 trafficking victims and three of 150 unaccompanied children went missing, and Northern Ireland saw seven and two go missing respectively.

The researchers claim that in too many cases, practitioners were failing to properly use the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), so many at risk children were not being identified.

Respondents said that failing to identify those in danger, or not believing their accounts, only further compounds the risk they face.

More recording failures were identified around ethnicity data, as just ten local authorities were able to provide information on nationality.

Those that did showed that trafficked Vietnamese children were more likely to go missing than any others, followed by British children, but the NRM data placed British children as the third most at risk group.

The majority of British victims were young girls who were being trafficked for sexual exploitation, and professionals agreed that this demographic was more likely to go missing.

However, more than four in ten respondents said that British children were ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ recorded as trafficked, and many cases are not referred to the NRM.

The report claimed this might be because some practitioners believe that the term ‘trafficked’ only applies to those who cross international borders.

Based on its findings, the report has called on national and local government to introduce child-specific training on child trafficking and unaccompanied and missing children.

It also recommended improving data recording practices and implementing a more collaborative national, regional and local response to children going missing.

An NSPCC spokesman said: “Today’s report reflects our own concerns that child trafficking is an increasing problem in the UK. The number of children referred to the NSPCC’s Child Trafficking Advice Centre has increased by 96 per cent since 2007/08. And the system is already facing challenges – the Association of Directors of Children’s Services has warned that a national shortage of foster carers is putting enormous pressure on a system that has already seen the number of child migrants coming to the UK double in the last two years alone. Many of these children are at grave risk of harm, including sexual and criminal exploitation. Allowing any child to slip under the radar and be put in harm’s way while in the UK’s care is unacceptable.”


  1. Nearly 200 vulnerable asylum seeker children go missing Kent Online
  2. Shocking figures show Thurrock has the “most trafficked” children in YouthThurrock
  3. Child trafficking victims and unaccompanied children are going Welfare Society Territory
  4. ‘Alarming’ number of child trafficking victims missing from care  LocalGov

Tim Farron on the missing kids…


National Referral Mechanism statistics

NRM statistics are available here pdf . (726 KB)


1 in 5 victims of trafficking are children   Source


Over 700 children were identified as potential victims of trafficking last year  Source

The most common countries for children to be trafficked from are UK, Vietnam, Slovakia, Romania and Nigeria  Source

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The most common reasons for children to be trafficked are sexual exploitationand criminal exploitation.  Source


We’ve dealt with over 1,300 cases of child trafficking since 2007


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