HC Deb 13 September 2004 vol 424 cc1403-4W
Mr. Laurence Robertson

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the trafficking of children within the UK; and what steps he is taking to counter this. [185120]

Mr. Browne

The Government are strongly committed to combating child trafficking. We recognise that it is a complex problem and are determined to address every aspect of it, whether in countries of origin, en route to the UK, or on arrival. We have put in place a number of measures to do so, and constantly keep them under review.

We are working with source countries to tackle the problem at its root. The UK is one of the strongest supporters of the International Labour Organisation's (ILO) Convention on the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour. We have given £70,000 to Anti-Slavery International for raising awareness of the abuses suffered by the victims of trafficking and remedial action in West Africa. We have also given £3 million for the International Labour Organisation's International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) programme in the Greater Mekong region. This involves a number of inter-linked interventions to raise awareness and prevent trafficking, and to withdraw women and children from labour exploitation and reintegrate them back into their own or new communities.

We are also taking action to ensure an effective enforcement response. 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), as well as the appropriate Government Departments. 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 Sexual Offences Act 2003, which came into force in May this year, 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, is included in the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004.

The Government are 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.

We are also working to raise awareness of child trafficking among key professionals and agencies. The Immigration Service has started specialist child interviewing training for around 600 operational members of staff nationwide, which will help identify child victims of trafficking as they arrive in the UK. The Government have also published a best practice toolkit 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 Home Office and the Department for Education and Skills are jointly considering the results from the Reflex funded multi-agency operation, Paladin Child. This involved the Metropolitan Police, the Immigration Service, social worker:. from Hillingdon Social Services and secondees from NSPCC. The operation risk assessed children arriving at Heathrow airport without their parents or legal guardians and social services followed up those considered to be at risk. The operation did not uncover any evidence of child trafficking. However, the report did make a number of recommendations related to child protection.