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Unaccompanied and Trafficked Children

Volume 471: debated on Monday 4 February 2008

6. If he will take steps to prevent unaccompanied and trafficked children from going missing while in local authority care. (183684)

The Government take that issue very seriously and we are therefore taking steps to address it. Existing statutory guidance for local authorities about children going missing from care applies regardless of immigration status. Last week, we published proposals to improve services for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, including better procedures for identifying and supporting the victims of trafficking.

In December, we published specific guidance, “Safeguarding Children who may have been trafficked”. That includes action for local authorities and all practitioners who work with children to take when potentially trafficked children enter care to protect them from further exploitation.

Since local authority safe houses are anything but safe, hundreds of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children go missing each year because the provisions are insecure and it would not be acceptable to lock them up. Will the Under-Secretary ensure that children trafficked into the main London airports and those elsewhere in this country do not go to local authority care homes and safe houses close to the airport, because the traffickers know that that happens? They wait in cars outside those homes to pluck the children out of them within hours of their being placed there.

I pay tribute to the work that the hon. Gentleman does in this area. He is quite right: it is a problem that trafficked children can go missing from care, often returning to those who trafficked them. He is also right to identify the problem of keeping them secure. He may be aware that the Border and Immigration Agency published its response to the public consultation exercise last week. One of the measures announced was a response to exactly the point that the hon. Gentleman made; in other words, there is a need to place unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in a network of specialist local authorities, to ensure that they receive the expert services that they need.

But are those local authorities going to be given the support that they need to ensure that they can keep tabs on the children concerned? It is an absolute disgrace in the 21st century that children who are at such risk cannot receive that support from the United Kingdom.

Yes, and my hon. Friend is quite right to describe the trafficking of children as an absolute disgrace. As I mentioned earlier, the Home Office published the results of its public consultation exercise last week, which include better procedures to assess the age of children, ensuring that adults and children are not accommodated together, and putting in place better procedures to identify and support asylum-seeking children who are the victims of trafficking, while paying particular attention to those who are at risk of going missing or suffering further harm or exploitation.