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Asylum Seekers

Volume 401: debated on Thursday 20 March 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department pursuant to his answer of 5 March, Official Report, column 1076W, on asylum seekers, what methods of identification and judging the age of unaccompanied child asylum seekers without documentation are used, apart from appearance; and if he will make a statement. [103402]

In the absence of documentary evidence establishing age the judgment as to whether an applicant is under or over 18 is based solely on appearance. If the applicant wishes to obtain a medical assessment of age she or he may do so independently and any such assessment will be taken into consideration. Any age assessment provided by Social Services, based on behavioural and cultural factors, is taken into account.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department pursuant to his answer of 5 March, Official Report, column 1076W on asylum seekers, what system the Department has in place to locate relatives of unaccompanied child asylum seekers other than use of the Red Cross and other charities. [103403]

The Immigration and Nationality Directorate refers all unaccompanied asylum seeking children to Local Authority Social Services Departments, and they then make use of the Red Cross and other organisations to trace parents. The process of accessing these tracing services rests with the Local Authority.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what measures the Government has in place (a) to stop child trafficking for the sex trade and (b) to protect child asylum seekers from organised criminal groups when they arrive in the UK. [103404]

The United Kingdom is committed to tackling the trafficking of children for sexual exploitation. Our strategy on trafficking is set out in the White Paper "Secure Border Safe Haven" and focuses on strengthening the law through new offences covering trafficking; providing appropriate support to victims of trafficking in the UK; tackling the criminals through intelligence and enforcement operations through the Reflex taskforce; European Union co-operation and prevention in source and transit countries in partnership with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development.

The new Sexual Offences Bill sets out new wide-ranging offences covering trafficking for sexual exploitation to replace the stop-gap offence of trafficking for the purpose of prostitution, introduced in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. The offence of trafficking for sexual exploitation carries a tough maximum penalty of 14 years. In addition to this, the Bill also introduces a new offence of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of a child, which will protect children up to 18. It covers a range of offences, including buying the sexual services of a child, (for which the penalty ranges from seven years to life depending on the age of the child); and causing, facilitating or controlling the commercial sexual exploitation of a child in prostitution or pornography, for which the maximum penalty will be 14 years' imprisonment.

Child victims of trafficking are referred to social services to receive advice and support based on their particular needs. Under the Children Act 1989, local authorities have a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children who are in need by providing a range and level of services appropriate to those children's needs or, where appropriate, by arranging for the provision of services from other agencies. We are working with Department of Health on examples of good practice on how this commitment is delivered.

Joint work is also underway between key agencies at principal entry points to identify children at risk. A Child Protection Pilot Project was launched on 10 March at Heathrow, this is a joint operation between the Metropolitan Police and the Immigration Service.