The number of British children identified as being trafficked for sex or forced labour within the UK has surged in the last year, crime-fighters have said, as high-profile abuse cases in Rotherham and Rochdale boost awareness of the crime.
Britain was the most prevalent country of origin for potential child victims of human trafficking in 2013, with more than 128 child victims identified, a three-fold increase on the 38 found in the previous year, the National Crime Agency (NCA) said.
The stark increase comes as the overall number of potential human trafficking victims identified in the UK, including adults and children from all countries, also jumped 22 per cent in 2013 to 2,744. Two-thirds of child trafficking victims were girls.
Elsewhere, the NCA said it had received emerging intelligence reports that human trafficking victims were being branded “like cattle” with tattoos to signify ownership or their age.
Liam Vernon, head of the NCA’s United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre (UKHTC), said reports of wide-scale abuse by gangs in towns such as Rotherham, Rochdale and Oxford were behind a spike in identified child victims.
“There’s more awareness through all the cases we’ve seen reported in the UK over the last three or four years,” he said. “There’s more joined up and co-ordinated national policing and partnership work around child sexual exploitation in general.”
Mr Vernon went on: “It has nothing to do with crossing borders. Trafficking is recruitment or movement in the case of a child for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation can include exploitation for prostitution, other forms of sex exploitation, forced labour, slavery, or servitude.”
The Yorkshire Post last month reported fears that hundreds of victims of human trafficking and forced labour are going undetected across the region as members of the public and local authorities fail to recognise the problem going on in front of them.
A leading academic says official statistics about the numbers of people forced into miserable working conditions or trafficked into the country to be exploited in the region “hugely understate the scale of the problem”.