The government is to review legislation to make sure that criminals who traffic children into the UK are given tougher sentences.
Strategy commits to strengthening support for victims of trafficking. Image: Phil Adams
According to the government’s new Human Trafficking Strategy, traffickers should face more "appropriate penalties" for their crimes and existing powers to seize cash and profits made through trafficking should be extended.
The strategy also sets out plans to target the countries that are a major source of trafficking into the UK to prevent vulnerable people from becoming victims of trafficking in the first place, while the police will work to establish closer relationships with overseas law enforcement agencies to carry out joint operations across borders.
Meanwhile, the strategy commits to strengthening support for victims of trafficking.
"We recognise more needs to be done to stem the flow of human trafficking victims, particularly children, into the UK," the strategy said.
"Where victims are brought to the UK we will ensure, through our improved victim care arrangements in England and Wales, that they have access to the support and care they need and deserve."
Immigration Minister Damian Green claimed the plans send the message that the UK is not a soft touch for traffickers.
"We will pursue and disrupt trafficking networks overseas wherever possible to stop them before they ply their trade in the UK and then bring them to justice," he said.
"These measures along with improved victim care arrangements will ensure that all victims – adults and children – receive care tailored to their specific needs."
Peter Davies, chief executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (Ceop), added: "Child trafficking is a terrible crime and can have devastating consequences for those affected. This commitment to enhance the co-ordinated efforts of law enforcement, government and the wider child protection community is a major step forward, as we all strive to improve the level of support to vulnerable and frightened child victims."
Enver Solomon, policy director at the Children’s Society, said children’s services professionals must place a renewed focus on working with a wide range of agencies to protect every child who is trafficked.
"The government’s human trafficking strategy is desperately needed. Figures show that 300 children were trafficked last year but this is only the tip of the iceberg as too often agencies are unaware of the signs that children have been trafficked, meaning the problem goes undetected," he said.
"We must not forgot that trafficked children are victims and should not be criminalised."
Solomon added that all separated migrant children, including victims of trafficking, should have access to an independent guardian who will act in their best interests.
But he warned that cuts to legal aid could make it harder for child victims of trafficking to get justice.
"We are particularly concerned that proposals to take immigration out of the scope of legal aid will mean that a large number of child trafficking victims will not have access to legal help," he said.
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