Human Trafficking (Child Victims)

Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 6th February 2012.

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Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Shadow Minister (Education) 2:30 pm, 6th February 2012

What steps she plans to take to reduce the number of child victims of human trafficking who go missing.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

The Government’s new missing children and adults strategy provides a core framework for local areas to put in place better arrangements to prevent children and adults from going missing. The strategy highlights examples of good practice that have reduced the number of missing trafficked children, and we are working to spread that good practice.

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Shadow Minister (Education)

Does the Minister agree with ECPAT UK that the provision of an appointed guardian would ensure that child victims of trafficking would receive all the support that they needed, and that that would vastly reduce the number of children who are going missing? If he does agree with that, why are the Government still refusing to legislate on guardianship, despite such legislation having been called for in an EU directive and by many child welfare groups?

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

I do not think that making statutory provision for adding a guardian is necessary, because every looked-after child is already allocated a social worker and an independent reviewing officer, and is provided with access to an advocate. Those children are therefore already given a considerable amount of support. Also, in factual terms, the number of such children who are going missing, while still too high, is considerably lower than it was a few years ago. Local authorities are therefore getting to grips with that underlying problem as well.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

I haven’t the foggiest idea how the Minister can say that, because local authorities do not identify trafficked children. I have the greatest respect for what he is doing in regard to trafficked children, but this is none the less the biggest hole in the Government’s strategy. Child victims of human trafficking are looked after less well than adult victims. That cannot be right, and it has to be changed.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

Let me explain to my hon. Friend how I arrived at those figures. They are not my figures; they are figures from the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, a body that is specifically involved in the protection of children. It said that, in 2007, 55% of such children went missing from care. That was an appalling figure, but it has most recently come down to 18%. I agree with my hon. Friend that that is still far too high, but he can see that local authorities are making considerable progress. In that respect, I particularly commend Hillingdon council, which is one of the most experienced councils in this regard, as it covers Heathrow. In 2009, 12% of unaccompanied children were going missing from its care; it has now reduced that number to 4%.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Tackling human trafficking undoubtedly requires strong international organisations and, in some cases, an international power of arrest to apprehend these criminals. Will the Minister answer a very simple question? Will he guarantee that he, unlike many of his party’s Back-Bench Members who have called for it, will not withdraw from the European arrest warrant—yes or no?

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

I commend the hon. Gentleman’s ingenuity in putting that question. As he will recognise, the vast majority of trafficking comes from outside the European Union, so his question, though ingenious, is not strictly relevant.

Photo of Henry Smith Henry Smith Conservative, Crawley

What specific support can be given to local authorities with children’s services responsibilities that have major ports, such as Gatwick airport in West Sussex, within their boundaries, particularly with respect to supporting 16 to 18-year-olds who are so often those who go missing?

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

My hon. Friend makes a good point in that local authorities that have major ports within them tend, obviously, to face bigger problems with trafficked children but also tend to develop greater expertise as well. That is why bodies like CEOP and the United Kingdom Border Agency do their best to spread best practice around the country so that every local authority can know that it is performing as well as possible in this important area—

Photo of Ann Coffey Ann Coffey Labour, Stockport

Does the Minister agree that if we are to prevent children from being trafficked within the UK, local agencies and parents need to be more aware of the early symptoms of sexual grooming, including repeated missing episodes? What more can he do to raise such awareness?

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green The Minister for Immigration

I agree completely, and I know the hon. Lady rightly takes a great interest in this area. As I say, it is a question of spreading best practice around all the agencies—not just local authorities but the police as well. We try hard to ensure that all police forces are much more aware of the specific symptoms of these types of problem so that they can treat anyone affected in the appropriate way.