On February 16, 2021, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that the United Kingdom had violated the rights of two Vietnamese men by charging them for drug offences when they were children, despite signs that they had been victims of trafficking.
The two men, identified as Mr V.C.L. and Mr A.N., had been found on cannabis farms back in 2009. Mr. V.C.L, then 15 years old, had told the police that he had been smuggled into the U.K. by his adopted father and taken to the farm to work.
Concerns had been raised by social services that he may have been a victim of trafficking. Nevertheless, he was sentenced to 20 months in a young offender’s institution for the production of a controlled drug.
Seventeen-year-old Mr. A.N. had told the police that he had been made to work on the farm for no pay. He was sentenced to eighteen months on the same charge.
Though both minors, and though there were signs of trafficking, they were both prosecuted instead of being assessed for potential trafficking.
The minors appealed their cases in 2012 on the grounds that they had been victims of trafficking, but the British Court of Appeal dismissed both cases.
They then took their case jointly to the ECHR in November 2012. The case is a first of its kind for the ECHR and has implications for other European countries.
The court found that the lack of any assessment of trafficking may have prevented the minors from defending themselves from the 2009 charges and therefore the U.K. had violated two articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, namely Article 4, prohibition of forced labor, and Article 6, right to a fair trial.
The Thomson Reuters Foundation reports:
A record 10,627 suspected modern slaves were identified in Britain in 2019 – up by 52% in a year – while the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the crime further underground with victims less likely to be found or receive help, according to activists.
Police, lawyers and campaigners have raised concerns that children are often prosecuted on drug charges despite evidence suggesting they were coerced, and a legal defence protecting such defendants under Britain’s 2015 Modern Slavery Act.
One of the lawyers for the claimants, Parosha Chandran, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that, “This judgment will count for many victims today, tomorrow and in many years to come.”
The court ordered the U.K. to pay 25,000 euros in damages and 20,000 euros for costs and expenses to each of the applicants. The British Home Office is reportedly “carefully considering” the judgement.
Just this month, U.K. authorities came under fire from anti-slavery advocates for re-traumatizing trafficking victims by treating them like criminals as the news broke that immigration authorities had detained thousands of potential trafficking victims between January 2019 and September 2020.
Freedom United is calling on the U.K. to better support all trafficked children in the U.K. Join the campaign today.