Modern slavery. Domestic servitude. Trafficking. Exploitation. Whatever name you want to call it, increasing numbers of vulnerable people – many of them children – are being brought into England and Wales, often having been fed lies about employment, education and an elevated standard of living.
What they face instead is an unrelenting, and apparently inescapable, cycle of being used and abused. For money, for sex, for household drudgery. For errands that flirt with criminality until they become full-time, albeit unofficial and low-paid, jobs.
The latest Home Office figures indicate that in the first three months of 2022, nearly 4,000 potential victims of modern slavery were identified – and more than a third of those said they had been exploited when they were children.These young victims come from all over the world: Albania, Eritrea, Nigeria, among other countries.
Some of them manage to escape their captors and make it to a place of safety – some to relatives or friends, others into the care system.But the care system is not the haven it could and should be.
One in three of the trafficked children (378 out of 1,231) in local authority accommodation, whether hotels, hostels, or foster families, went missing in 2020.
In London specifically, numbers have gone up too, seeing a 63% increase between 2018 and 2020.It is unsurprising to people who work in the system.
John Stokes Foster carer John Stokes says victims of trafficking felt going missing was their only option to stay in the UKJohn Stokes is a charity worker in London who lives with his foster children in Bristol.He has been fostering for more than 30 years.
Six years ago he started fostering child victims of trafficking.”Until I started working with children who come into contact with the Home Office, I didn’t realise how it operated or how dismissive they are of these people,” he said.
He believes victims of trafficking are being criminalised by the government as soon as they enter the country.”They are interviewed for seven or eight minutes and that determines their next few years.
“But traffickers obviously tell them what to say, so they just say that.”