These numbers highlight an increase of 800 percent in cases of child slavery across the UK. Sputnik spoke on the issue with Laura Durán, a senior policy, research and practice officer at ECPAT UK.
Sputnik: New figures have shown that child slavery cases in the UK have surged by nearly 800 percent in just two years. How significant are these figures and just how wide-spread are incidents of child slavery across the UK?
Laura Durán: I think that the statistics you're citing always need to be taken with a pinch of salt. I don't think that they necessarily reflect that there's a significant increase in cases of child slavery. I think it's more that professionals are now better equipped to understand what the different profiles are of children who are exploited, are and are getting better at identifying those cases that have always been out there.
Sputnik: In the past couple of years, following the evolution of county line gangs, we've seen a massive spike in cases of human trafficking and modern slavery — in particular cases of child slavery. What are the factors and causes behind the rise in these types of crimes?
Laura Durán: The term "county lines" is a term that describes a very specific way in which gangs from metropolitan areas have branched out into rural areas, to set up drug distribution networks, and that model heavily relies on the exploitation of both children and adults. Now, the factors that have led to the spread by gangs into these other markets are, for example, in metropolitan areas, where there might be more contested territory within different gangs, with regards to setting up further drug supply, distribution operations. Right now, in the case of children — children have been exploited in this way for many many years. I think the increase in attention is not really about this issue being new, or the fact that more children are being exploited; I think that the difference is that these children are now being seen and appreciated as being children who are being exploited for criminal purposes by adults, and not so much children that need to be prosecuted as offenders and siphoned into the criminal justice system.
Sputnik: Looking to the future, what should local councils and police forces across Britain be doing to tackle these types of crimes?
Laura Durán: I think that we're starting to see really positive practice from all frontline public authorities. First of all, in the way that children are identified and the way that they are treated and first encounter with the authorities. Predominantly, this is about safeguarding a young person and not seeing that young person and not treating that young person as a criminal. So that's a really positive step in the right direction. We need to make sure that all public authorities are on the same page with regard to how we safeguard young people from criminal exploitation. Obviously, the issue of child criminal exploitation has been impacted hugely by wider, different government initiatives. For example, austerity has had a significant impact in the amount of young people that have been recruited into exploitation with the closure of youth groups, with the college closure of all sorts of different types of venues and activities that young people could be positively engaged with — that has just left a wide arena for gangs and other people that seek to exploit children to just come in and have that space to be able to recruit young people into these types of scenarios. So we need to invest in our local community, we need to invest in our youth services; we need to respond to cases where young people are being exploited within the framework of safeguarding and not within the framework of criminality. Those are some of the steps that we can take to make sure that we do tackle this really serious issue of child exploitation.
The views and opinions expressed by Laura Durán are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.