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Child trafficking victim’s judicial review to be heard after he was left without adequate care and support

A judicial review into the provision of support for child trafficking victims will be heard in the High Court on 4-5 July. A victim of child trafficking has brought the case after he was not given any specialist support for his trafficking-related needs from the Home Office and his local authority for several years.

Posted on 03 July 2023

The Eritrean national referred to as AM, who is now 22 and has been granted refugee status, suffered repeated episodes of trafficking as a child. This included being made to carry out forced labour by a criminal gang in Libya where he was held captive, tortured and forced into domestic servitude. He has been left traumatised by these experiences of violent exploitation.

AM was recognised as a likely victim of child trafficking soon after seeking asylum in the UK at the age of 16. Despite this, AM received no support for the specific purpose of assisting him with his physical, psychological and social recovery from his trafficking experiences for nearly three years during his childhood and in his transition to adulthood.

Even after the Home Office decided that there were ‘conclusive grounds’ to believe his account of trafficking, neither the Home Office nor his Local Authority provided AM with specialist support. His lawyers, Leigh Day, say this has significantly affected his ability to recover from his experiences of child trafficking and that his experience is not an isolated anomaly.

Supporting evidence filed by ECPAT UK, a charity working on child trafficking issues, highlights the lack of arrangements to ensure child victims of trafficking are able to access support to meet their recovery needs. Lawyers for AM will argue that the root of the problem is that whilst the Home Secretary has made arrangements for adults to receive victim recovery support, no equivalent arrangements have been made for child victims.

The Home Secretary instead relies on local authorities’ duty to safeguard the welfare of children in their area. This means provision of trafficking-specific support for child victims is at their Local Authorities discretion and leaves what ECPAT UK call a serious gap in protection. This can have serious consequences for their development and puts them at risk of re-trafficking.

AM’s case has already been recognised as ‘arguable’ and been given permission to proceed to a full hearing in the High Court on 4 and 5 July. This will examine whether the Home Secretary and the London Borough of Barnet breached their obligations, including under the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings (ECAT) and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). It will also examine whether the different approach taken for adults, discriminates against children, contrary to Article 14 of the ECHR.

The case could have wider implications for the way child trafficking victims are supported by the Home Office and local authorities.

Carolin Ott, Solicitor at the law firm Leigh Day said:

“Our client’s treatment shows how the current system is failing to adequately support child victims of trafficking contrary to obligations under both international and domestic law. Whilst adult victims have specific support arrangements, there is no such guarantee of protection for children, often with serious consequences for their development and safety. The Home Office’s own statistics show that more than 7,000 individuals exploited as children were referred into the National Referral Mechanism for victims of trafficking last year, many of whom (more than 3,000) were British. It is crucial that these children are supported in their recovery from exploitation and abuse. This situation not only affects our client, but thousands of child victims of trafficking who are being left without adequate state support to help them recover.”

Patricia Durr, CEO of ECPAT UK (Every Child Protected Against Trafficking) said:

“This case raises matters of significant importance for child victims of trafficking for whom there is no specialist support, leaving them at significant risk of re-trafficking, serious mental health problems and other forms of abuse.

"Child trafficking and exploitation is child abuse and involves egregious and extreme crimes against children and major violations of children’s human rights and integrity. Children and young people who have been trafficked and exploited are subject to a range of harms including physical and emotional trauma, humiliation, violence, degradation and unrelenting fear. Their right to be and feel safe and to recover is critical.

"The transition to adulthood is particularly difficult and if victims are not well supported to access their rights and entitlements to dignified safe housing, specialist mental health services, education and financial assistance, their pathways to recovery and positive outcomes and futures are dangerously undermined. They are children and young people who need the utmost care and support but as in this case of this child, they are all too often failed.”

Carolin Ott
Human rights Judicial review

Carolin Ott

Carolin Ott is a senior associate solicitor in the human rights department.

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