Shock report on child trafficking in Wales

Child victims of trafficking have been found across Wales, says a new report today. The children were either known or suspected to have been exploited through being forced to work in restaurants and takeaways, in the production of cannabis, in sexual exploitation, in begging and in domestic servitude.

Some of the children were identified before the exploitation occurred and practitioners can only surmise what may have happened to them had they not been detected, says the study.

Children in the study came from a range of countries in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East and the two largest groups were from China and Nigeria.

The research was commissioned by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner Wales to consider what evidence there is for child trafficking in the country. It was conducted by children’s protection organisation ECPAT UK.

Child trafficking involves moving children across or within national or international borders for the purposes of exploitation.

The study found evidence of children who may have been trafficked into, within and out of Wales, including towns outside of South Wales.

Forty five children were reported as causing concern and 32 of them met sufficient criteria to be included in the results of the study.

The study examines the experiences of 41 practitioners from Local Authority Children’s Social Services, the Voluntary Sector and the Police across Wales.

Semi-structured face to face interviews were conducted in the four research locations of Cardiff, Newport, Swansea and Wrexham. Data from across Wales was collected through questionnaires addressed to the Directors of Local Authority Children’s Services and from individuals who hold strategic posts in Wales.

Interviewees were asked about their experiences over the past two years of working with children from abroad who may have been exploited and multi-agency working in relation to these children.

A key finding of the study is that child victims of trafficking were found across Wales, including rural areas outside of South East Wales.

This contrasted sharply with the view held by many of the interviewees that child trafficking is limited to urban areas. Of concern was the number of separated children living with unknown adults in takeaways in both urban and rural areas.

As one respondent put it: “There are lots of kebab shops here, we don’t know who would be working in them, don’t think that is ever really looked into”.

Cases of suspected sexual exploitation and trafficking for forced marriage were also found outside of South East Wales.

“Many issues emerged that were familiar from previous ECPAT UK research, such as incidences of children going missing and difficulties of identification,” says the report.

“Worryingly, other new trends were uncovered such as the lack of private fostering assessments even after identification and the lack of data collection on how and why these children arrived in Wales.

“A recurring theme throughout the study was the difficulty practitioners have in identifying whether or not a child has been trafficked. In our view, this stems from three interlinked areas; attitudes, knowledge and practice, on both personal and organisational levels.

“Attitudes as to whether trafficking could happen in Wales varied greatly but some practitioners struggled with the idea that it was taking place in their local area. Trafficking was spoken about as something than ‘happens elsewhere’, especially in cities in South East Wales with practitioners citing newspaper reports as evidence of this.

“Accepting the possibility of child trafficking can happen locally is the foundation for all future action and intervention. Identification of trafficked children depends on the acceptance the possibility that the problem actually exists.

“As far as knowledge is concerned, it is essential that practitioners have opportunities to gain information and understanding in this area.

“Since safeguarding procedures are core to the responses to child victims of trafficking, it is important for practitioners to learn about trafficking, the contexts in which it occurs and the difficulties that both the children and practitioners may face. In this small study, we found that knowledge levels varied greatly. In some areas, there were pockets of expertise but in others individuals described how they struggled to get information.

“If attitudes are poor and knowledge not developed, the practice of safeguarding trafficked children and promoting their welfare becomes almost impossible.

“In our view, it is why some of the children described in this study were left so vulnerable.

“This is both a management issue and an individual responsibility. It is incumbent on agencies that come into contact with children from abroad to provide good support to their staff to enable them to work effectively.”