More children than ever before embroiled in modern day slavery as new report reveals huge rise in criminal and sexual exploitation

More children than ever before are embroiled in modern day slavery with huge rises reported in both criminal and sexual exploitation during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to new figures released today.

More children than ever before are embroiled in modern day slavery with huge rises reported in both criminal and sexual exploitation during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to new figures released today.

Reports of sexual exploitation across the UK rose by 25 per cent in 2020 to 273 cases with a potential 481 victims. Nearly a quarter of these were identified as children, statistics published as part of the Modern Slavery and Exploitation Helpline annual assessment show.

Criminal exploitation - involving drugs-related activity including County Lines, forced shoplifting and begging - has also risen by 42 per cent to 254 cases, with a fifth of potential victims being minors.

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These increases are despite an overall drop in contacts to the Helpline, which is run by the anti-slavery charity Unseen.

Figures released today also reveal the Helpline received 8,000 contacts in 2020 from victims, professionals working in services such as the NHS, businesses and members with concerns of modern slavery. A potential 3,481 victims of modern slavery were identified as a result, of which, 10 per cent were children.

Despite fewer contacts to the Helpline during the pandemic - down nearly 14 per cent to 7,976 - the number of modern slavery cases remains fairly consistent with 1,742 in 2020, compared to 1,812 in 2019.

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There was a 95 per cent increase in reports related to modern slavery in cannabis farms, compared to 2019.

Justine Currell, Executive Director of Unseen and co-author of the Assessment, said: "A year on from the first lockdown, the number of reports relating to sexual and criminal exploitation, and those involving children, is particularly alarming, given that overall contacts to the Helpline decreased during the pandemic.

“Covid-19 and the subsequent economic downturn affected the visibility of the threat in such places as car washes and nail bars. And as you would expect, the proportion of calls from the general public declined during the lockdowns. But this report shows that modern slavery and human trafficking is still alive and unfortunately thriving.

Figures for the Yorkshire region show there were 141 modern slavery cases reported to the four police forces during 2020. A potential 494 victims were identified.

Yorkshire's largest police force - West Yorkshire Police - reported 71 modern slavery cases with a potential 259 victims.

South Yorkshire Police reported 33 modern slavery cases with 121 potential victims. Humberside Police had 21 cases with 70 victims and North Yorkshire Police recorded 16 cases with 44 potential victims.