Child trafficking and modern slavery

Modern slavery is an umbrella term encompassing activity where one person obtains or holds another human in compelled service. Modern slavery includes (but is not restricted to) servitude, slavery, forced labour and human trafficking. The following definitions are held within the term 'modern slavery' for the purposes of the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

These are:

  • 'slavery' is where ownership is exercised over a person
  • servitude' involves the obligation to provide services imposed by coercion
  • 'forced or compulsory labour' involves work or service extracted from any person under the menace of a penalty and for which the person has not offered himself voluntarily
  • 'human trafficking' concerns arranging or facilitating the travel of another with a view to exploiting them.

Read more about the Modern Slavery Act 2015.

Child trafficking

Child trafficking is the movement of children and/or young people under the age of 18 using deception, fraud or force with the aim of exploiting them. It’s a form of modern slavery and is child abuse.

Child trafficking can involve international travel and children being moved globally, so children may be smuggled into the UK for modern slavery purposes, but distance is not always an identification factor. If a child is moved within the UK with the intention of exploitation this is also trafficking, for example a child may be moved from the centre of Coventry to the outskirts, around the West Midlands region or across the country either by themselves or accompanied by others. If a child is given a package of drugs and compelled to walk 200 yards down the same street to deliver these drugs to another house, it’s still trafficking, and the child is being exploited.

Both traffickers and victims can be any gender, from all backgrounds, countries, religions and communities. Traffickers may organise their crimes on a small scale e.g. trafficking a very small number of children or it may be large scale offending e.g. up to an international criminal network that encompasses many crimes as well as trafficking, such as money laundering or fraud.


Criminals use various methods to obtain children, they may:

  • Trick, force or persuade parents or the child to leave their home. Traffickers often use grooming techniques to gain the trust of a child, family or community.
  • Promise that the child will have an education or a better future in another place. Families may be asked to pay a fee to the traffickers for arranging the ‘service’ of this e.g. cost of travel or documents
  • Traffickers make a profit from the money a child earns through exploitation, forced labour or crime. Often this is explained as a way for a child to pay off a debt they or their family ‘owe’ to the traffickers. This debt may be passed down from the parents to their children to repay.

Although it’s impossible to know exactly how many children and young people are victims, evidence suggests that Modern Slavery is on the increase. Some victims have been trafficked from overseas and some are British victims who might have existing vulnerabilities. Despite their individual circumstances, all are susceptible to the promises of well-paid work and good accommodation, which turns out to be a lie.

Children and young people may experience multiple types of exploitation and may not be able to disclose all forms of their exploitation to professionals. Please find below examples of some forms of child exploitation:

  • Forced labour (nail bars, car washes, catering, agricultural work, factory work)
  • Forced criminal activity (begging. cannabis cultivation, pick-pocketing, street based theft, drug dealing, gang-related crime, county lines activity)
  • Sexual Exploitation
  • Domestic Servitude (cooking, cleaning and childcare)
  • Benefit Fraud (including pregnant young people exploited for maternity benefits)
  • Illegal inter-country adoption and private fostering arrangements
  • Forced marriage
  • Bonded labour/debt bondage (children can be born into a situation where they must work to pay off a debt incurred by their parents as noted above)
  • Organ harvesting (unexplained injuries, extensive missing periods, arrival in the UK with unknown medicines.)

Please note that children cannot consent to their own exploitation and may not recognise that they are a victim of abuse. Children may perceive themselves to be in control of their own situation and consider themselves to be making their own money and having a free choice about whether to participate in the activity.

Signs that a child has been trafficked

Identifying a child who has been trafficked is difficult as they are intentionally hidden and isolated from the services and communities who can identify and protect them.

Signs that a child has been trafficked may not be obvious, but could include:

  • rarely leaving the house
  • having no time to play
  • living apart from family or having limited social contact with friends, family and the community
  • appearing unfamiliar with a neighbourhood
  • being seen in inappropriate places (for example factories or brothels)
  • being unsure of where they live
  • having their movements controlled or being unable to travel on their own
  • living somewhere inappropriate, like a work address or dirty, cramped, unhygienic or overcrowded accommodation, including caravans, sheds, tents or outbuildings
  • lacking personal items
  • consistently wearing the same clothes
  • often being moved by others between specific locations (for example to and from work) – this may happen at unusual times such as very early in the day or at night
  • being unable or reluctant to give details such as where they live
  • fearful or withdrawn behaviour, or efforts made to disguise this
  • being involved in gang activity
  • being involved in the consumption, sale or trafficking of drugs
  • having their communication controlled by another – may act as though instructed by, or dependent upon, someone else
  • tattoos or other marks indicating ownership
  • physical or psychological abuse, ill health, exhaustion or injury – may look unkempt and malnourished
  • reluctance to seek help, avoidance of strangers, being fearful or hostile towards authorities
  • providing a prepared story if questioned or struggling to recall experiences
  • inconsistent accounts of their experiences

How to respond

As trafficking is child abuse it requires an immediate safeguarding response to stop the child being re-trafficked and experiencing more abuse and trauma.

If you think a child is in immediate danger always call the emergency services on 999.

To discuss a non-emergency matter with the Police call 101.

If you are concerned that a child or young person is being harmed or is at risk of harm, but there is no immediate danger, or you need advice or information, please call Coventry Children's Services at the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) on 024 7678 8555.

Out of office hours please call the Emergency Duty Team on 024 7683 2222.