Increasing numbers of men, women and children are being trafficked into the UK, new figures show.
The UK Human Trafficking Centre (UKHTC) said 2,255 potential victims of human trafficking were recorded in 2012 – up 9 per cent on the previous year.
Those secretly imported into the country – often with coercion – were exploited for labour reasons, while many were sexually abused and sold to bidders.
Around one-quarter (24 per cent) of these potential victims were children – up 12 per cent on the previous year.
The most prevalent countries of origin of child potential victims were Vietnam, Nigeria and Slovakia – with some victims less than ten years old when they were taken to the UK.
Romania was the most prevalent country of origin for potential victims, with 272 recorded cases in 2012 – up 26 per cent on 2011.
Poland had 240 people caught up in the illegal practice, up 48 per cent on 2011, while 209 made the journey from Nigeria to settle in the UK – a rise of 22 per cent.
The UKHTC’s report said many Nigerian women trafficked for sexual exploitation said they were recruited when their parents died.
They reported being taken in by a relative or friend of the family, and were often subjected to deceptive recruitment through being offered employment or education opportunities in the UK.
Many eastern European woman said they initially became involved in a relationship with a man and fled with him to the UK after being offered a better life. However, upon arrival, they were sexually exploited.
Children trafficked into the UK were often used to help with criminal or sexual exploitation, the report said.
The study comes days after Home Secretary Theresa May promised new laws to tackle the issue as part of a Modern Slavery Bill.
ECPAT UK, a leading children’s rights charity, called the study a welcome acknowledgement of the scale of the issue, but warned it was also an indication of the Government’s continued failure to make the UK a safe place for children.