The trade of humans for the purposes of forced labour, slavery or sexual exploitation is understood to be one of the fastest growing areas of both inter and intra-national criminal organisations, and has devastating effects on the victims.

Trafficking does not necessarily involve travel to another county or even long distance nationally, a child can be trafficked within their own area, especially in relation to child sexual exploitation. Exploitation is not just sexual and can include forced labour or domestic services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.  This could also include county lines.

Some children and young people are moved away from their home town to other locations, for the purpose of exploitation. Although the nature of the information is often anecdotal, more cases continue to come to light.

Definition of trafficking

“Human trafficking is the movement of people by means such as force, fraud, coercion or deception, with the aim of exploiting them.”

Unseen, 2020

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Trafficking is exploitation


Trafficked children experience multiple forms of abuse and neglect.

This can happen anywhere… child sexual exploitation and domestic servitude is common, as is county lines, factory and nail bar work.  There are also instances of young people being used forced to work in cannabis farms.

While there is a demand for children and young people to carry out these roles, traffickers will continue to traffic children and young people for profit.

The “more” link on the right takes you to the Home Office guidance in relation to victims of modern slavery.

Vulnerable groups

Everyone can be vulnerable to being trafficked, however there are some groups that we know are more likely to be trafficked than others:

  • refugees and migrant children;
  • children in care;
  • children who are not in the care of their parents / legal guardians;
  • links to criminal networks;
  • missing from home and/or education;
  • gender: there is greater threat to girls than boys;
  • children with additional needs.
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Spotting the signs

Many of the signs are similar to those we see in relation to any abusive situation, however some specific considerations are in relation to children who:

  • have chaotic home lives.
  • are involved in substance misuse.
  • are living in poverty.
  • not attending school or excluded due to their behaviour.
  • stay out overnight with no explanation.
  • getting into unknown cars or taxis.
  • experience a breakdown of residential placements due to their behaviour;
  • have money or goods including mobile phones, drugs and alcohol that they cannot account for.
  • experience multiple sexually transmitted infections.
  • are self harming.
  • have chronic alcohol and drug use.
  • are involved in offending behaviour.
  • are being moved around for sexual activity.
  • are having multiple miscarriages or terminations.
  • are offering to have sex for money or other payment then running before sex takes place.
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What you can do

Most trafficked children are invisible. Protecting them and promoting their welfare depends upon the awareness and co-operation of community groups and members of the public. Safeguarding trafficked children is very much everyone’s business and requires a community response in high risk areas.

Create an environment based on equality and informed choice – help young people think about the issues and attitudes behind trafficking and modern slavery:

  • be aware of the signs and effects;
  • support pupils and families;
  • sign-post to supportive services;
  • any concerns should be raised with your designated safeguarding lead.

Ensure young people know the risks – talk about poverty at an age appropriate level and have a safety plan to get help.

Check young people have safe relationships – in their family, with their peers and with your staff. Create the environment where it’s ok to talk even about the most difficult things.

Spot the signs & know what to do – use the checklists above, your safeguarding procedures and be confident in raising trafficking and modern slavery as a possibility.

Take action – and keep taking action until you know they’re safe.

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What to do...

  • modern slavery of children is child abuse, therefore normal child protection procedures apply;
  • refer to children’s services or the police as a ‘first responder’;
  • ensure they follow the National Referral Mechanism to assess next steps;
  • Follow your safeguarding procedures in relation to any other risks.


  • Modern slavery awareness & victim identification guidance

    Modern slavery is happening in the UK today, but the crime can be difficult to spot and go unreported. This guidance is intended as a resource providing clear and up to date information on the key facts, and to help public sector workers who may not routinely come across modern slavery recognise the signs and respond so that more victims get help and perpetrators are brought to justice.

  • Care of unaccompanied migrant children and child victims of modern slavery, Statutory Guidance

    This guidance sets out the steps local authorities should take to plan for the provision of support for looked after children who are unaccompanied asylum seeking children, unaccompanied migrant children or child victims of modern slavery including trafficking.

  • The Passage Modern Slavery Handbook

    Tackling modern slavery, human trafficking and exploitation in the homelessness sector. This handbook explains what slavery looks like in the homeless community, what to watch out for and what you can do about it. We hope that this will help you to provide better support to your service users by preventing the crime and by supporting victims in your workplace.

    Although directed at the homelessness sector, this handbook provides a useful summary of what modern slavery is and the vulnerabilities people face.

  • Modern slavery explained

    From the charity unseen – What is modern slavery? Slavery is an umbrella term for activities involved when one person obtains or holds another person in compelled service. Millions of people around the world are trapped in modern slavery. It is a crime happening in our communities, takeaways, hotels, car washes, nail bars and private homes. And, as Unseen Director Kate Garbers explains in this powerful film, modern slaves could be working for you.

  • Modern Slavery Act 2015 – Statutory Guidance for England and Wales

    Statutory guidance that considers the sorts of things which indicate that a person may be a victim of slavery or human trafficking, arrangements for providing assistance and support to persons who there are reasonable grounds to believe may be victims of slavery or human trafficking and arrangements for determining whether there are reasonable grounds to believe that a person may be a victim of slavery or human trafficking.

  • Video resources …

    Video resources created by the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority and other agencies looking at areas such as debt bondage, accommodation, survivor stories and modern slavery.

  • Modern slavery training: resource page

    Government page which provides a number of different sets of training materials around modern slavery.

  • Types of Exploitation – Infographic

    One page infographic setting out the types of exploitation that is seen with modern slavery. Can be used as a poster.

  • Signs of Exploitation – Infographic

    One page infographic setting out the signs that might indicate that an individual is a victim of modern slavery – can be used as a poster.

  • Victim Vulnerabilities – Infographic

    One page document setting out the vulnerabilities that can be seen in victims of modern slavery.  Can be used as a poster.

For resources to develop staff knowledge of safeguarding, subscribe today.

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  • Training resources for DSLs to use in team meetings
  • Reference documents for additional information
  • Handout for school staff summarising trafficking
  • Quiz to test staff understanding
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