Human trafficking and exploitation strategy

Our strategy to work with partners to make Scotland a more hostile place for human trafficking.

Section 4: Children


This section brings together the specific children's actions in the preceding sections and sets out actions where the situation for children who are, or who may be victims of human trafficking and exploitation differs from that for adults.

A child victim of human trafficking or exploitation is a victim of 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. Children's vulnerability can be increased where they experience a physical or learning disability or any other particular set of characteristics or experiences which would increase their reliance on adult care. The risks to children can be even greater when they are moved to another location, where they have no associations or shared language. How child victims will experience trafficking and exploitation will differ and may be impacted on by their gender. Figures indicate for example that many more female than male victims will experience sexual exploitation. [5]

The range of situations in which children could be subject to trafficking and exploitation is complex and not always obvious, particularly in situations such as domestic servitude where the child is kept unseen. Circumstances could include what appear to be legally acceptable arrangements such as private fostering and inter-country adoption. Forced marriage and other forms of child abuse may be linked to trafficking and exploitation.

It is also crucial to recognise that trafficking and exploitation does not only affect children from other countries; there have been cases of domestic trafficking and exploitation of children who have been born and brought up in Scotland. The growth of the internet and use of social media has only added to the complexity in identifying both victims and perpetrators. It is important that appropriate investigations, sensitive to the cultural norms of each child, take place depending on the individual circumstances. Addressing child trafficking has been identified by the Scottish Government as requiring specific action and is part of the Scottish Government Child Protection Improvement Programme announced in February 2016.

The Act defines a child as a person under 18 years of age and includes a number of provisions which benefit children. In particular, section 6 provides for a sentencing aggravation if the offence of human trafficking is committed against a child and sections 11 (Independent Child Trafficking Guardians) and 12 (Presumption of Age) relate to additional support and assistance for child victims.

Section 11 introduces a new statutory Independent Child Trafficking Guardian role. It places a duty on Scottish Ministers to make such arrangements as they consider appropriate to enable a person (an "Independent Child Trafficking Guardian") to be appointed to assist, support and represent an eligible child. This is intended to complement the role and responsibilities of the existing statutory agencies. An eligible child is a child that a relevant authority determines is unaccompanied (in the sense that no person in the UK holds parental rights or responsibilities in relation to the child) and the authority (based on reasonable grounds of belief) determines that the child is, or may be, a victim of the offence of human trafficking; or that they are vulnerable to becoming a victim of that offence. It also places a duty on relevant authorities to, as soon as reasonably practicable after determining that a child is eligible, take steps to refer that child to the guardian appointed for the child. For the purposes of section 11, a "relevant authority" is a local authority and any other person specified by regulations made by the Scottish Ministers.

Section 12 states that where a relevant authority (defined as a local authority or health board) has reasonable grounds to believe that a person may be a victim of human trafficking and the authority is not certain of the person's age but has reasonable grounds to believe that the person may be a child, the authority must assume that the person is a child for the purposes of exercising its functions under various relevant enactments (listed in section 12) until an assessment of the person's age is carried out by a local authority, or the person's age is otherwise determined.

The Lord Advocate's Instructions for Prosecutors when Considering the Prosecution of Victims of Human Trafficking and Exploitation, discussed previously in relation to adult victims, also provide instructions in relation to child victims. They state that if there is sufficient evidence that a child aged 17 or under has committed an offence, and there is credible and reliable information to support the fact that the child:

a) is a victim of human trafficking or exploitation; and,

b) the offending took place in the course of or as a consequence of being the victim of human trafficking or exploitation,

then there is a strong presumption against prosecution of that child for that offence.

What is already happening?

The approach to addressing child trafficking and exploitation is underpinned by the principle of the best interests of the child, enshrined in the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 and built upon in the national Getting It Right for Every Child ( GIRFEC) framework. This is in line with Article 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

A child victim of human trafficking or exploitation is a victim of child abuse and the child's safety remains the principal consideration. Support and protection for child victims in Scotland is provided within the context of Scotland's child protection system and the GIRFEC approach to improving outcomes for children and young people. In all cases where it is suspected that a child may be a victim of human trafficking or exploitation, the child's safety is paramount and child protection procedures must be activated quickly. Separate systems should not be put in place for children who have been or are suspected of having been trafficked or exploited. The child protection system is best placed to address child abuse, ensuring that children are listened to and that a robust response to children in need of care and protection is in place.

It is essential to take timely and decisive action because of the high risk of the child or young person being moved. The National Guidance for Child Protection, [6] refreshed in 2014, provides guidance in respect of child trafficking. It highlights that all necessary actions and inter-agency child protection procedures should be followed to ensure child victims are protected. The National Guidance remains the primary guidance document for child protection and vulnerability investigations. The identification, or not, of child victims should not preclude or override any child protection investigations.

The Inter-agency Guidance for Child Trafficking, [7] published in 2013, provides information and guidance to all members of the children's workforce so that professionals and others are able to identify trafficked children and make appropriate referrals so that victims can receive protection and support. The guidance includes an indicator matrix for child trafficking, based on best available information about factors in a child's circumstances which may lead to the belief that a child has been trafficked. However, the indicators do not replace child protection investigations and their presence or otherwise should not preclude implementation of standard child protection procedures.

The responsibility for coordinating services for child victims of human trafficking and exploitation lies primarily with the relevant local authority. A range of support will be provided depending on the assessed needs and specific circumstances of the child. Where a local authority is providing direct care to a child victim, the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 remains the primary legislation in determining the provision of accommodation and care services.

Currently, where a child victim or suspected child victim arrives in Scotland unaccompanied and separated from their family, they will receive additional support from the Scottish Guardianship Service. Funded by the Scottish Government, this project is a partnership between Aberlour and the Scottish Refugee Council. Working alongside local authority supports, Guardians support young people by helping them navigate the immigration and welfare processes, help them feel supported and empowered throughout the asylum process, assist them to access the help they need when they need it, and make informed decisions about their future. Any eligible child can be referred, recognising that a trafficking episode won't always be immediately apparent or disclosed.

There are recognised links between child trafficking and child sexual exploitation ( CSE). Since 2014, Scotland has had in place a national action plan to support cultural change throughout children's services agencies, and society at large, to ensure that CSE is recognised as an issue that needs to be properly tackled and addressed.

Early intervention and prevention is essential in tackling CSE. In January 2016, the Scottish Government launched a national campaign to raise public awareness and understanding of CSE. The campaign, developed and supported by stakeholders, included a national TV advert and campaign website, which provides information on the many forms of child sexual exploitation, along with advice on where adults, children and young people can go for and help and support.

Primarily aimed at children and young people aged 11-17, the awareness campaign focused on building an understanding of the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships, and empowering them to take appropriate action if they had concerns about themselves or a friend.

We also recognise that part of our work to tackle CSE involves supporting people who are at risk of sexually exploiting children to change thoughts and behaviour. Core funding from the Scottish Government is enabling Stop it Now! Scotland to provide direct support to adults and young people in Scotland at risk of sexually abusing others.

Due to their circumstances, missing children and young people may be more at risk of trafficking and exploitation. Many children and young people who go missing do so repeatedly. Whilst away from home, they are even more vulnerable, with an estimated one in six sleeping rough or with strangers, and one in nine experiencing harm while missing.

The UK charity Missing People provides the Runaway and the Say Something UK helpline services. Say Something raises awareness amongst children and young people of the risks and dangers of sexual exploitation and provides advice on how to keep safe and where to seek support. The Scottish Government is funding Missing People from April 2016 to March 2019 to market these helpline services directly to young people in Scotland, to ensure that more children and young people are supported when they are thinking of going missing or need help to stay safe.

What do we need to improve?

  • We want members of the public, as well as parents and those working with young people, to understand the risks and be able to identify where trafficking and exploitation of children might be happening in all its forms and the action to take. This includes highlighting the links with CSE and missing children. Work already being undertaken in relation to CSE will support this.
  • We need to better understand the routes into trafficking and exploitation situations for children and to use data more effectively to inform strategic and individual planning for child victims.
  • Where young people are victims of crime, including trafficking or exploitation, there is a need to ensure that a child centred, wellbeing approach is taken to their needs, in line with the GIRFEC approach. It is also important to identify and assess the circumstances impacting on the child. A child who is involved in some offending behaviour, for example, may themself be a victim. The introduction of the presumption against prosecution as per the Lord Advocate's instructions will further strengthen this position.
  • Children who have been trafficked or exploited are likely to be highly traumatised by their experience. Whilst many NHS Boards have already put a lot of effort into reducing waiting times for access to psychological therapies and to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services ( CAMHS), we need to continue to ensure that children have access to appropriate mental health services as necessary to support their recovery.
  • In supporting recovery, we need to continue to be sensitive to the potential impact of other processes such as the National Referral Mechanism, immigration processes and the criminal injuries compensation system.
  • UK statistical information highlights that the provision of inappropriate care placements for child victims can increase the risk of children going missing and becoming subject to further trafficking and exploitation. [8] Whilst prevalence is lower in Scotland than in England, we need to minimise the risks of further exploitation of children.
  • For unaccompanied child victims, we need to develop formal arrangements to enable Independent Child Trafficking Guardians to be appointed to assist, support and represent an eligible child in accordance with section 11 of the Act. Those arrangements will clarify their role and responsibilities and we will need to set out how the roles will complement existing local authority provision and contribute to outcomes for children.
  • We need to ensure that any relevant existing guidance reflects the presumption of age provision in section 12 of the Act.

What actions will we take to move forward specifically in relation to children?

In the short term

  • The Scottish Government will continue to take forward the Child Protection Improvement Programme ( CPIP) announced in February 2016, of which addressing child trafficking is a key work stream.
  • Local Child Protection Committees should ensure that there is robust partnership working in place to address child trafficking and exploitation. This should be underpinned by specific and appropriate arrangements on child trafficking and exploitation through guidance, protocols or procedures, which are known and implemented by relevant services. This should include having in place appropriate strategic and practice linkages between child and adult services for older children and arrangements for the provision of advocacy.
  • Local services working directly with children should have in place appropriate processes regarding the use of interpreters to support practice in relation to children where English is not their first language.
  • The Scottish Government, in consultation with stakeholders will bring forward guidance on the use of Sections 22 and 25 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 regarding the provision of support to children.
  • In implementing the updated national action plan to prevent and tackle child sexual exploitation, we will ensure that Scotland is a hostile place for perpetrators and facilitators of CSE. This will be achieved through a variety of actions; to ensure perpetrators are identified early, held to account through the criminal justice system and by encouraging victims to report. This includes improving consistency in local problem profiling in order to build a national profile of CSE across Scotland.
  • To strengthen the multi-agency response to prevention, disruption and detection of perpetrators across Scotland, Police Scotland are currently piloting a child sexual exploitation and abuse intelligence sharing toolkit, which will formalise information collection and sharing arrangements between the police, other law enforcement agencies, statutory agencies (including social work, education, housing, health and licensing), community groups, voluntary sector services and the business community (including hotels, taxi companies, food outlets, off licenses and hostels). The toolkit will be evaluated ahead of national rollout.
  • The Scottish Government will continue to support NHS Boards to meet their access targets for specialist child and adolescent mental health services with a programme of improvement.
  • For unaccompanied children, who do not have someone with parental rights and responsibilities for them in the UK, the Scottish Government will consult with partners on introducing formal arrangements that will meet the duties in section 11 of the Act. Once that section is fully in force, Ministers will be under a duty to make arrangements to enable a guardian to be appointed to children who have been trafficked, and relevant authorities will be under a duty to refer these children to this service. We will work together with partners in developing how this will be implemented.
  • The Scottish Government will work with partners to update the 2012 Age Assessment Practice Guidance [9] to reflect the provisions of section 12 of the Act and consider the need for any other revisions.
  • The Scottish Government is taking forward a refreshed Child Internet Safety Action Plan. Whilst the Plan is wider in its scope than child trafficking, it will recognise the role that social media and online activity can play in the trafficking and exploitation of children.
  • The Scottish Government will commission a piece of research that will work with frontline workers and services (for example, the police, social workers) to identify the presence of young people who have been trafficked and to establish their routes to arrival. Through this we can then make an evidence based decision with our partners on whether any other action (such as the development of guidance) is needed to protect and safeguard and, where possible, to prevent any such activity taking place.
  • Child and Adult Protection Committees should consider how best to collaborate to share learning and best practice in relation to addressing child trafficking and exploitation and supporting victims, particularly in relation to children transitioning to adult support services, where human trafficking issues may contribute to them being an adult at risk of harm.

In the medium term

  • The Scottish Government will work to ensure that local authorities across Scotland continue to provide care to a consistently high standard and, in terms of a child's entitlement to continuing care introduced by the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, both in the short term and when they leave care.
  • Child and Adult Protection Committees should consider how partners can best work together to identify and meet training needs.
  • The Scottish Government, through the Child Protection Improvement Programme will support Child Protection Committees to identify and make better use of data for strategic and individual planning.
  • Child Protection Committees should have in place appropriate mechanisms for the monitoring of effectiveness of guidance, protocols or procedures in place to address child trafficking and exploitation.
  • The Scottish Government, linking to the national Mental Health Strategy, will consider how (with partners) we can best maximise the current children's mental health provision and work together to better support recovery in the longer term.

In the longer term

  • The Scottish Government recognises that a sustained and collaborative effort is necessary and will continue to take a joined up approach with partners to support victim recovery, assist with reintegration and continue to address the conditions that foster child trafficking and exploitation.


Email: Anncris Roberts

Phone: 0300 244 4000 – Central Enquiry Unit

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road

Back to top