Tracy* was just nine years old when she was sold to a trafficking gang in Nigeria. During the years that followed, she was taken from Spain to Italy and eventually to England where she was sexually exploited and abused.
Recent revelations suggest that more children in the U.K. are at risk of trafficking as evidence continues to emerge of children being kidnapped whilst under the care of the government.
Government whistleblower exposes Home Office neglect
Unaccompanied children seeking asylum in the U.K. are being taken, possibly by criminal gangs, while housed by the U.K. Home Office in hotels, according to a whistleblower.
Since July 2021, 4,600 children have been accommodated in hotels, and 200 of them have disappeared. The government previously refuted such claims but now admits that an investigation is taking place.
It has also been reported that the Home Office received several warnings about this risk. The hotels were initially intended as an emergency measure. However, 18 months later, children are still being housed in hotels.
Unregulated hotels go against child safeguarding laws
The government is approaching these cases as an immigration issue, rather than a child protection issue, explains Dr. Patricia Hynes, professor of social justice at Sheffield Hallam University.
Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children deserve to be treated with the same care as any other child in the U.K., which is why the government should in fact deal with this growing problem with a child protection focus.
Children who arrive into the UK should be safeguarded. Placing children in unregulated hotels removes essential oversight of these children and is not in accordance with The Children Act 1989 and any associated ethical practices.
Child trafficking is on the rise
Recent data suggests that trafficking is on the rise in the U.K. In 2021, a record high number of children were recognized as potential victims. A total of 5,468 potential victims were referred as potential victims, up 9% from the previous year.
Young people across the U.K. are being forced into begging, drug trafficking, factory work, car washing, and sex work, highlights Lauren Saunders, head of policy at anti-slavery charity Unseen.
The youngest person she has worked with just was six years old. Trafficked from Nigeria to the U.K., he was forced to cook and clean for a family in the U.K. for 10 years.
Exploitation can lead to physical injuries and massive emotional effects. Someone may experience flashbacks for a really long period of time afterwards, poor mental health, suicidal ideation and/or self harm. They may present as very weak or vulnerable or seem very underdeveloped for their age.
No child should have to endure the same suffering as Tracy. Freedom United is urgently calling on the Home Office to ensure there are genuine safeguards in place for asylum seeking children.
*This name has been changed.