LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Thousands of children living in British care homes far from where they were brought up are at heightened risk of being trafficked, experts said on Tuesday, as figures showed increasing numbers are going missing.
The number of children removed from families and sent to live long distances away rose to almost 3,700 in 2017, up 64 percent from 2012, according to government data released by British lawmaker Ann Coffey.
The number going missing hit almost 10,000 in 2017, more than double the 2015 figure, she said.
“Record numbers of children are being sent away to places where they are more vulnerable to exploitation,” said Coffey, an MP with the opposition Labour Party who chairs a parliamentary group on runaway and missing children.
Anti-slavery groups warned that being far from their homes made such children easier prey for traffickers.
“Taking children far away from their home area – far from their support networks – can leave them in an isolated and vulnerable position,” said Chloe Setter of anti-child trafficking organization ECPAT UK.
Going missing from care put children at greater risk of physical abuse, grooming and sexual exploitation, said Harriet Jackson, a spokeswoman from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).
“Children go missing for many reasons including bullying, abuse or being unhappy about life at home or in care. Sometimes it can feel like their only option is to run away,” she said.
Local authorities often have little choice about where to place children as private care providers are expensive and care homes unevenly distributed throughout the country, Coffey said.
A spokesman said the Department for Education was working to improve responses to children going missing, and now required all care homes to have a clear policy for preventing this from happening.
At least 13,000 people across the country are estimated by the government to be living in modern slavery but police say the true figure is likely to be in the tens of thousands.
The number of British children referred as potential victims of trafficking more than doubled last year, said Jakub Sobik of anti-trafficking group Anti-Slavery International.
“It’s difficult to escape the conclusion that the UK is failing its most vulnerable children,” he said.
Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, 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