Background and Context
Child trafficking is considered child abuse. Children are by default more vulnerable to coercion and abuse than adults due to their age and dependency on others for their care and are therefore at greater risk of becoming victims. Given its devastating impact on children and young people, combatting child trafficking and supporting victims to recover is a priority for the Scottish Government.
Child trafficking typically exposes children to continuous and severe risk of significant harm. It involves the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring and/or receipt of a child for the purposes of exploitation. Children are trafficked for a number of reasons within and between countries and continents. They may be trafficked for one type of exploitation but sold into another.
Whilst in some circumstances it is clear that a child or young person has been a victim of child trafficking, it is often difficult to establish directly if an unaccompanied child presenting in Scotland has been a victim. Given that unaccompanied or separated children have often been displaced from their homes due to violence, trauma and abuse, they are considered vulnerable to being exploited or trafficked during their migratory journeys once in Europe or the UK. The harm children may experience once they are displaced and separated has a severe impact on their physical and emotional well-being.
International research has shown that unaccompanied and trafficked children benefit enormously from guardianship arrangements as they have an advocate to ensure that their best interests are considered, they have access to the right information and legal assistance and that they receive the appropriate mental, physical and emotional health support they need.
Looked After Children
All unaccompanied and trafficked children and young people have the same right to care and support as any other child in Scotland. Under section 25 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, local authorities have a duty to provide any child or young person who presents in their area, and for whom no individual holds parental rights and responsibilities, with accommodation. Following an assessment of the child's background and circumstances, and should a decision be reached that they require to remain in the care of the local authority, they will become 'looked after' children and matched to suitable care and accommodation.
Young people in Scotland in the care of a local authority are looked after until they are 18 years of age and legislation also provides for additional support for young people on leaving care in the form of Continuing Care (remaining in their care setting up to 21 years old) and Aftercare (additional local authority support up to 26 years old).
Guardianship support for victims of child trafficking
As well as receiving looked after status and receiving local authority support, trafficked children and young people face many wider challenges and additional support is required. This can include going through the trafficking process and in many cases, the asylum process as well. They also face further barriers such as breaks in their education, adapting to a new country, and learning a new language.
Section 11 of the 2015 Act puts into statute the role of an Independent Child Trafficking Guardian who will be appointed to assist, support and represent a child or young person who is unaccompanied in Scotland, where there are reasonable grounds to believe that a child is, or is vulnerable to becoming, a victim of human trafficking; and no person in the UK has parental rights or responsibilities in relation to the child.
Recognising that these children and young people are vulnerable, the Guardian will provide assistance and support in navigating the complex welfare, care, immigration, asylum, and trafficking systems, often in a foreign language. The Guardian can represent young people in engaging with the various authorities and speak on the child's behalf to avoid the need for them to re-live their experiences through constant re-telling of their story to different authorities.
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