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British boys at greater risk of modern slavery, report finds

Human Trafficking
12 February 2024
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A recent report highlights that nearly half of the UK's victims of criminal exploitation are British boys under 18, and reveals a pressing need for legal reforms to identify such boys as victims of modern slavery.

The study, conducted by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) and the charity Justice and Care, indicates that criminal exploitation surpasses other forms of modern slavery in the UK, with 45% of cases involving British minors coerced into crime.

The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) data shows a significant portion of these victims are British teenagers and vulnerable adults manipulated into illegal activities for others' gain.

The report stresses the issue of criminal exploitation often being overlooked by authorities due to the victims' criminal involvement, urging a reevaluation of these young people as victims of modern slavery.

Eleanor Lyons, the independent anti-slavery commissioner, supports the call for expanding the Modern Slavery Act to encompass criminal exploitation. This change aims to improve the "inconsistent" response from law enforcement and other bodies, she says, acknowledging the victims' plight and enhancing support and prevention measures.

"This report rightly calls on the government and frontline policing to make sure criminal exploitation is prosecuted for what it is: a form of modern slavery.

"This will also allow us to do more to prevent the endless stream of young people and vulnerable adults being pulled into criminal exploitation and give them the support they deserve.”

Risk factors such as substance abuse, challenging family situations, learning disabilities, and economic hardship heighten the vulnerability to exploitation, particularly in deprived areas. The study also found a disparity in awareness and encounters with criminal exploitation between the most and least deprived communities and schools.

The phenomenon of "county lines" drug trafficking is highlighted as a prevalent form of criminal exploitation, with victims often entrapped through debt, violence, or manipulation.

The report advocates for a new law to combat "cuckooing," where individuals are coerced into storing illicit items or proceeds.

In response, a government spokesperson reiterated the commitment to protect children from exploitation: "As part of our county lines programme, we are investing up to £5m over three years to support exploited victims and their families. We also remain committed to rolling out the Independent Child Trafficking Guardian Service across England and Wales, and tackling the abhorrent practice of cuckooing by working closely with the police to use all the tools and powers available to them.”

Photo by Tom Sodoge on Unsplash

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