The report, titled 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.
Chloe 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.”