Child Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking - guidance

Child modern slavery and human trafficking (MSHT) is a serious form of child maltreatment and can lead to lifelong physical, mental, emotional, developmental, and social consequences. These practice guidelines introduce MSHT as a significant health and public health concern, and address the role of paediatricians in this complex area.

The full guidance can be downloaded below.

Background and aims

In 2020, over 10,000 potential victims of modern slavery and human trafficking (MSHT) were identified in the United Kingdom, half of whom claimed they were exploited as children1 . Due to the clandestine nature of these crimes, the count of all victims is likely to be significantly higher and it is anticipated that MSHT will escalate in the wake of the economic and societal disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and mitigating policies.2

Forms of exploitation include, but are not limited to:

  • Labour exploitation
  • Criminal exploitation
  • Sexual exploitation
  • Domestic servitude 
  • Financial exploitation
  • Other forms including forced marriage

These practice guidelines aim to introduce MSHT as a significant health and public health concern, intersecting with many socially-located causes of health inequalities and inequity including poverty, lack of education and opportunity, racism and gender-based discrimination.

They also aim to provide guidance on the role of paediatricians in addressing child MSHT. This is key as victims and survivors of MSHT are a particularly vulnerable group of children and young people who may go unrecognised and be misunderstood by health, social care, foster care, education, immigration and police services. They may also be wrongly criminalised for actions they were forced or manipulated to take during their exploitation. This is particularly the case for criminally-exploited children and young people, including victims within the ‘County Lines’ illegal drugs networks.

Good practice recommendations

  • Paediatricians will encounter victims and survivors of child MSHT and must familiarise themselves with the signs of MSHT in children and young people (CYP) and the ways in which they present to healthcare settings.
  • Paediatricians must follow local safeguarding procedures and referral pathways to dedicated safeguarding professionals and other agencies (most importantly social care and the police), where MSHT is suspected.
  • Paediatricians are expected to engage their existing trauma-informed care skillset at all stages of communication, healthcare and safeguarding provision.
  • Paediatricians must remain alert to MSHT activity in their local area.
  • Paediatricians are strongly encouraged to attend specialist training on the topic of child MSHT.