Child trafficking: research

Research on the routes and circumstances of children and young people who have been identified as victims of trafficking and exploitation in Scotland, and their experiences of support services.


"We put a lot of focus in about the supports and needs when they first arrive, and protection, but actually the longer term outcome is still poor, which needs more focus." (P2)

While outcomes measures for children and young people in Scotland are located in GIRFEC and SHANARRI indicators (Scottish Government 2018), the complexities of the backgrounds and present circumstances of those exploited through trafficking, require a much more nuanced assessment of needs, support and outcomes. One of the prime challenges when commenting on progress and outcomes, was the absence of background information which presents problems for an integrated and holistic assessment of needs and professional oversight of a young person's complete and often complex experiences. In this respect, the longer term outcomes, as identified by the respondent above, do require more focus, monitoring and evaluation.

While trafficking is not an immigration issue, the fact that all but one of the young people identified for the case file analysis were non-EU nationals, meant that claims for asylum featured heavily in both young people and professional narratives. Several of young people (15 out of 37) were still waiting on immigration decisions. In this respect, any idea of being 'settled' and 'included' and being able to plan for the future (Kohli 2007) remained elusive.

Twelve out of thirty-seven of the young people had been granted refugee status, or leave to remain. For one professional respondent, a positive decision to remain in the country was the most important of all the decisions, "to get leave to remain, all that anxiety is removed and they are able to move on in other ways" (P9). All but one of the 12 young people who were granted refugee status were recorded as being in education or employment. It appeared that once certain of their futures young people were better able to engage with other aspects of their lives which were viewed as 'good outcomes'. This engagement was less evident for those waiting for immigration decisions, although for most, the absence of data precludes further comment.

While none of the case files indicated that young people had been returned to their countries of origin, concerns were expressed by professionals that young people had been returned to their home country at the age of 18, even if they had been in Scotland for several years as a confirmed victim of trafficking.

One professional indicated: "we have a national policy [UK immigration] that wants to put them out…we want to look after them" (P8). This statement encapsulates some of the tensions in identifying positive outcomes. What is a positive outcome for the immigration system (a final decision to remain or be removed), may not be a positive outcome for a young person or welfare services.

Looking at other areas of children and young people's lives, most of the children identified in Scotland appeared to be progressing well since being identified as victims of trafficking, and had engaged with a number of services in order to make use of appropriate and relevant support in relation to housing, health, education, asylum applications and legal support. However, the number of children and young people who had accessed psychological services related to trauma issues and PTSD (approx. 33 per cent), indicated that for a substantial minority there had been ongoing concerns regarding psychological health. The issue of psychological health was also a concern for those young people interviewed, and appeared to have as much to do with the waiting and decision-making in relation to trafficking and immigration issues, as it did with their experiences of exploitation and abuse.

Despite the generally positive progress identified, there were also indications that a number of young people remained in potentially exploitative, or risky scenarios. Concerns about ongoing levels of control were reported by some professional respondents who noted the possibility that the trafficking and asylum process was sometimes used by exploiters to get a young person into the country and care system with "the possibility of being exploited in plain sight" (P1).

"We're finding that young people who have been trafficked tend to gravitate back to nail bars…or forms of employment that we would be concerned about." (P9)

"They were bringing them to us, we were accommodating them, feeding them, looking after them teaching them English – and then the big worry is we've become part of this modelling." (P8)

The concern noted here is that children and young people may still be susceptible to further exploitation and re-trafficking. It is an issue that has been identified previously in Scotland (Rigby et al 2012), and one that requires continued monitoring and focus. Approximately 10 per cent of the case files indicated some concern amongst professionals in relation to places of employment and possible continued contact with people who may still be exploiting the young people.

Although some professionals expressed ongoing concerns about a small number of young people in terms of exploitation, case file records indicated that none of the children and young people in the index time-period had, to date, gone missing. The majority were still in regular contact with services in Scotland at the time of data collection, and for those who were not, there did not appear to be concerns regarding their whereabouts.

The situation in Scotland is in marked contrast to the rest of the UK where up to 28 per cent of suspected child trafficking victims have gone missing (Sereni and Baker 2018; Setter and Baker 2018). The reasons trafficked children in Scotland have not gone missing to the same extent as the rest of the UK is not known. This requires further examination.



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