HC Deb 09 March 2004 vol 418 cc1457-9W
Sue Doughty

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the Government's strategy to(a) prevent child trafficking and (b) provide protection and support to the victims of child trafficking. [158227]

Beverley Hughes

The Government is committed to combating child trafficking, both in the UK and in source countries. I have recently established an informal ministerial group to improve further the Government's response to the trafficking of both adults and children.

The Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office raise awareness of trafficking in source and transit countries through bilateral and multilateral development programmes. These have included training for agencies working with victims of trafficking and work to raise awareness of trafficking.

Since 2000, all operational activity targeted against organised immigration crime, including people trafficking, has been co-ordinated through the multi-agency task force Reflex.

Led by the National Crime Squad (NCS), Reflex brings together all the key agencies, including the Immigration Service, the National Criminal Intelligence Service and key police forces. Reflex aims to build up the intelligence picture, co-ordinate operations and provide a focal point for the operational response to human trafficking and smuggling.

The Reflex strategy is, in part, based on seeking to disrupt activity as close to the source as possible. The development of an international network of Immigration Liaison Officers in countries that are considered to contain key nexus points for transit to the UK has been a key component of the Reflex strategy. Projects in source countries to prevent trafficking include working with law enforcement and government agencies to identify and disrupt trafficking networks and routes.

In addition, the UK is contributing to the EU five year funding programme AGIS which will fund projects to promote police and judicial co-operation on combating organised crime.

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 sets out wide-ranging offences covering trafficking for sexual exploitation with a maximum sentence of 14 years imprisonment. A new offence covering trafficking for non-sexual purposes, such as forced labour or removal of organs, is included in the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bill which is currently before Parliament, however, we have also tabled amendments in the House of Commons to ensue that the Bill gives adequate protection to victims of child slavery.

The Immigration Service has started specialist child interviewing training for around 600 operational members of staff nation-wide which will help identify child victims of trafficking as they arrive in the UK.

The Government has also published a best practice toolkit, available at www.crimereduction.gov.uk/toolkits, as a guide for professionals who are likely to come into contact with victims of trafficking. This includes specific sections on children and young people.

The Government is committed to providing appropriate support to victims of trafficking. Child victims of trafficking are likely to be in need of welfare services. Under the Children Act 1989 local authorities have a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children who are in need, by providing a range and level of services appropriate to those needs or arranging for their provision by other agencies. Assistance and support should therefore be provided by local statutory services in response to identified needs, whether directly or though specialist agencies.

The Green Paper Every Child Matters highlighted tackling child trafficking as a key challenge for children's services. It also sets out new arrangements to join up services at the local level to strengthen child protection.

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