At a debate in Parliament yesterday (28 June) MPs asked the Government to explain the long delay in providing a nationwide advocacy service for trafficked children and to implement the relevant section of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 urgently.
A trial scheme in parts of England finished in September 2015 and was found to be highly effective by an independent evaluation team, but the Government decided at the time not to implement the relevant sections of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and instead to undertake further consultation. The Government said it would bring new proposals to Parliament in March, but until today had failed to published its plans.
During the debate MPs from many different political parties highlighted the positive impact of child trafficking advocates identified by the evaluation team and expressed disappointment that the relevant section of the Modern Slavery Act was not yet in force. Members highlighted the vulnerability of trafficked children, raised concerns about the plight of many vulnerable children currently without that specialist support and noted that delays in moving forward following the trials would leave children at risk of further harm and exploitation.
Fiona Mactaggart MP who called for the debate said about these children:
“They are lonely in a bewildering foreign country where they do not speak the language. The person who brought them here may have sexually exploited them or tried to get them involved in criminal activity to recoup the cost of their horrible and terrifying journey. They may be told that if they do not collaborate their families will suffer. They feel scared and abandoned.”
“The children in the trials who had an advocate felt more secure and supported than those who did not.”
“Every human being needs that person they trust and who they know will stand up for them at every point. For so many of these children, initially that person is the one who brought them to this country, often to exploit them. The great thing about creating an independent advocates scheme is that it gives the children that person.”
Angela Crawley MP added that
“The issue is fundamentally important because children are at immediate risk of further harm and exploitation.”
“Victims are desperately in need of independent advocates—people whose role it is to understand what is going on and to represent and support children believed to be the victims of trafficking.”
Sarah Champion MP described independent child trafficking advocates as “not a luxury but a necessity”.
The Minister, Karen Bradley MP responded to the debate by stating the Government’s full commitment to commencing the relevant section of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 – although gave no clear timetable for doing so.
The Minister went on to announce a range of plans to take forward the work to protect trafficked children. These include a plan for three so called ‘early adopter’ child trafficking advocate programmes in different parts of the country and new £3m fund for child trafficking protection measures which will target key challenges such as how to prevent children going missing and addressing the specific needs of children from high priority countries (those from where the largest numbers of trafficked children originate).
CARE welcomes the Government’s announcements today, but regrets that the plans for the ‘early adopter sites’ will still not begin to be put in place until later in the year. We hope that the Government will find a way to ensure the advocates in those sites will operate with the full authority of the Modern Slavery Act by bringing the relevant section into force.
It is also disappointing that rather than making child trafficking advocates available across the whole of England and Wales this plan for just three early adopter sites means many trafficked children still will not have access to the support of an independent child trafficking advocate. Whilst we welcome the announcement of the new child trafficking protection fund this cannot (and will not) replace the need for advocates for trafficked children across the whole of the country. We call on the Government to include in the new system a plan for the scheme to be quickly introduced to other areas beyond the original three locations.