Stopping child trafficking: what UK and Scottish governments must do now 



Illustrated lorry with people hidden in the back.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Special Representative for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings has visited the UK to assess human trafficking. The OSCE is the world’s largest regional security organisation and works to promote peace and stability. We met the Special Representative during his visit and raised our concerns on issues like the protection of child victims of trafficking in Scotland, medical age assessments, and the impact of the UK Government’s Illegal Migration Act on Scottish statutory services’ ability to fulfil their responsibilities towards child victims.  

The report highlights the Special Representative’s alarm about the increase in child trafficking and makes recommendations to the UK and Scottish governments. 

Impact in Scotland 

The report praises the Scottish Government for updating its Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy and promoting coordination among relevant agencies but calls for more to tackle the root causes of exploitation.  

The Special Representative agrees with our concerns about the increasing number of potential child trafficking victims who are arrested and detained. We know of cases where potential child trafficking victims were held in custody for significant periods of time. No child should be in prison, least of all those who have been criminally exploited.  

We therefore support the Special Representative’s call to amend the Lord Advocate’s instructions to make clear that prosecutors can choose not to prosecute as soon as the evidence and public interest supports them doing so.  

Consequences of the Illegal Migration Act 

Big ben and the uk houses of parliament.

Our office strongly opposes the UK Government’s Illegal Migration Act. Among many other deeply concerning provisions, the Act introduces a duty on the Home Secretary to remove children and their families who have entered the UK ‘irregularly’. This duty applies to child victims of trafficking, exploitation, and modern slavery and takes away protections and support. The Home Secretary has the power to extend these provisions to Scotland. This would put Scottish public authorities in an impossible situation where the Act would compel them to act incompatibly with their international human rights obligations.    

Age assessments and rights violations 

Currently, age assessments in Scotland are Merton compliant, conducted by trained local authority professionals. But the UK Government’s Nationality and Borders Act paves the way for the use of ‘scientific methods’ in age assessments, including x-rays and MRIs. The Illegal Migration Act creates further negative consequences for a child of not consenting to such an assessment. Our office has previously highlighted that these techniques can breach children’s rights and aren’t consistent with professional and scientific ethics. 

We are pleased that the Special Representative agrees with us that such medical assessments infringe children’s right to privacy and bodily integrity and risks violation of rights to recovery. This approach does not serve the best interests of the child.

What now?  

The UK and Scottish governments must consider the Special Representative’s recommendations and take decisive action to protect and support victims, address gaps in the system, and maintain their commitment to human rights and combating human trafficking.

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