September 17, 2018 / 5:21 PM / 2 months ago

UK launches first safe house for child slaves amid security fears

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A charity announced Britain’s first safe house for trafficked children on Monday, aiming to tackle the high number of victims who go missing while in the care of authorities, who campaigners say lack a clear strategy to tackle the crime.

As many as two-thirds of all trafficked children rescued and placed in local care - from foster families to care homes - go missing within the first three days, often due to mistrust in authorities and fear of their traffickers, campaign groups say.

The Unseen Children’s House has around-the-clock care and security features including CCTV cameras, panic buttons and a mobile phone ban to stop children running away, said Andrew Wallis, chief executive of leading anti-slavery charity Unseen.

“Amid criticism last week that trafficked children are being failed and going missing from care at an unacceptable rate, Unseen is taking positive practical action and piloting this innovative project with Home Office support,” Wallis said.

Britain’s anti-child trafficking efforts are fragmented and victims lack specialist care at a time when a record number of child slaves are being uncovered, the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group, a coalition of charities, said last week.

At least 2,118 children suspected to have been trafficked - from girls being sexually abused and gangs using young people as drug mules - were referred to the government last year, up 66 percent on 2016 and the highest annual number on record.

“There are no commonly agreed safety and protection standards across the UK for the placement of children who are suspected or known to be trafficked,” Bharti Patel, head of the charity ECPAT UK, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“A child should never feel punished or overly restricted by measures taken to help keep them safe in accommodation.”

The safe house is staffed by specialist social workers and volunteer parents to make the children feel like they are in a home rather than an institution, and will offer academic lessons as well as activities and clubs outside the house, Unseen said.

“The enhanced and tailored support it (the safe house) will provide to both trafficked and potentially trafficked children when they are at their most vulnerable is invaluable,” Britain’s minister for crime, Victoria Atkins, said in a statement.

At least 136,000 modern slaves reside in Britain, according to the Global Slavery Index by rights group Walk Free Foundation - 10 times the latest government estimate put forward in 2013.

Hailed as a global leader in the anti-slavery drive, Britain said in July it would review its landmark 2015 law amid criticism that it is not being used fully to jail traffickers, help victims, or drive companies to spot and stop forced labor.

Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org

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