Child Trafficking and Modern Slavery


Human trafficking, as defined in the UN Protocol on trafficking adopted in 2000, is the acquisition of a person, by means of decption or coercion, for the purposes of exploitation.  Human trafficking, or modern day slavery, as it is often referred to, is a crime and safeguarding issue affecting millions across the world and in the United Kingdom.  Trafficking can be better understood by reference to the AMP (Action, Means, and Purpose) Model from the Polaris Project.

The British Government estimates that there are around 13000 people in modern day slavery in the UK, a significant number of which are under 18. Nearly 1000 children were referred to British authorities as potential victims of slavery in 2015, a 40% increase on 2014.  Legislation was introduced in July 2015 in the form of The Modern Slavery Act, under which the maximum custodial sentence for the most serious offences is life. The legislation created the post of Anti-Slavery commissioner and placed a duty to notify on specified public authorities, including local authorities to report potential victims of trafficking to the National Crime Agency via the National Referral Mechanism (NRM).  Read the Government guidance on the duty here.

Changes in relation to Modern Slavery are part of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, which came into effect on 1 February 2023.  The Home Office published updated Statutory Guidance on 31 January 2023.

Types of Modern Day Slavery

Examples of industries and services where slavery exist in the UK today, the victims of which include children and young people are:

  • Sex industry, including brothels;
  • Retail – e.g. nail bars, hand car washes
  • Factories – e.g. food packing
  • Hospitality – e.g. fast-food outlets
  • Agriculture – e.g. fruit picking
  • Domestic labour – e.g. cooking, cleaning and child minding
  • Drugs industry – e.g. cannabis cultivation

Additionally, victims can be forced into criminal activities such as theft or begging or used for organ harvesting.  For more information specifically on the different types of modern slavery offences, see the Home Office Report – A typology of modern slavery:  offences in the UK, published in October 2017.

Who can be affected?

It is an issue that transcends age, gender and ethnicities. It can include victims that have been brought to the UK from overseas or vulnerable people in the UK being forced illegally work against their will. Children and young people have an increased vulnerability to slavery.

Poverty, limited opportunities at home, lack of education, unstable social and political conditions, and war are some of the situations that contribute to trafficking of victims and slavery.

Safeguarding Issues

Slavery can be linked to a number of safeguarding issues, including child sexual exploitation, but normally includes at least one of the following specific situations:

  • Child trafficking – young people being moved internationally or domestically so that they can be exploited.
  • Forced labour – victims are forced to work through physical or mental threat, against their will, often very long hours for little or no pay, in conditions that can affect their physical and mental health. They are often subjected to verbal or physical threats of violence against them as individuals or their families.
  • Debt bondage – victims forced to work to pay off debts that they will never be able to.   Debts can be passed down to children. Extreme examples include where a victim may be owned or controlled by an ‘employer’ or sold as a commodity.

Signs and Indicators

Possible signs and indicators that someone is a victim of modern slavery that anyone working with children and young people should be aware of include:

  • Physical appearance – poor physical condition, malnourishment, untreated injuries, and looking neglected.
  • Isolation – victims may not be allowed out on their own and may appear to be under the control or influence of people accompanying them, with the absence of a parent or legal guardian. They may not interact and be unfamiliar in their local community.
  • Poor living conditions – victims may be living in dirty, cramped or overcrowded accommodation, with multiple children living and working at the same address/premises.
  • Personal belongings – few possessions, wearing the same clothes each day, and no identification documents.
  • Restricted Freedom – victims have little opportunity to move freely and may be kept from having access to their passport.
  • Unusual travel times – victims may be dropped off or collected from work on a regular basis either very early or late at night.
  • Reluctant to seek help – victims may avoid eye contact, appear frightened or hesitant to approach people and have lack of trust or concern about making a report should they be deportation or fear of violence on their family.

The property of where a victim of modern slavery may be held could feature bars on the windows, reflective film or coating applied to the glass or permanently closed curtains. The entrance may have CCTV, multiple locks and have a sealed letterbox to prevent use. There may be evidence of services e.g. electricity being sourced from neighbouring premises or directly from power lines.


Agencies working with children and young people in Redbridge, along with adults that may be vulnerable to trafficking, are participating in a Task and Finish Group which will produce local guidance, and pathways for referrals.  It will also be implementing a plan that will led to improved identification of potential victims.  For information on the Task and Finish Group, contact Community Safety via 020 8708 5358.

In the meantime, see the guidance below on what action should be taken if you feel someone has been trafficked or may be at risk of being trafficked, either within the UK or overseas.

Modern slavery is listed as a category of abuse within the Care Act 2014 and is treated as a child protection issue, requiring a safeguarding response  due to the risk and trauma suffered by victims.  If you suspect that a child or young person may be a victim, contact the Redbridge Child Protection and Assessment Team (CPAT) on 020 8708 3885 (or 020 8708 5897 after 17:00 and at weekends).  A trafficked child is considered in need to child protection – children with acute needs, at risk of significant harm (see the RSCP Thresholds and Referrals Guidance) .  The Local Authority will then make a referral to the NRM.  You can additionally make a report to the Modern Slavery helpline on 0800 0121 700 or by completing an on-line form. If you believe that a child or young person is in immediate danger, contact the police by calling 999.  For more information, view the Local Authority flow chart relating to the referral process for victims or those at risk under the age of 18.

Where the age of a potential victim is uncertain and there are reasons to believe that the person is a child, they will be presumed to be a child and receive immediate access to protection, support, accommodation and advice, as stipulated by section 51(2) of the Modern Slavery Act 2015.




The Human Trafficking Foundation (HTF) have produced a director of services in London that offer support to survivors of modern slavery:

Additional information:

Learning Resources

The Redbridge Safeguarding Ault Board (RSAB) has produced, with the Redbridge Safeguarding Children Partnership (RSCP) a learning resource on  modern slavery which provides a list of different activities according to what time you have to learn.

There are also a number of other options for learning: