To ask Her Majesty’s Government what support they will provide for trafficked children.
My Lords, this Government are committed to tackling human trafficking and to supporting and protecting the victims of this vile crime. Responsibility for the care, protection and accommodation of child trafficking victims falls under the statutory responsibilities of local authorities. They must ensure that the child’s needs are assessed, that they are placed in safe accommodation and that they are given social work support to plan for their care.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that positive response. Does she agree that these children are among the most vulnerable in society and, therefore, that they need collaborative efforts to help and support them? What efforts are being made across government departments and across systems at a local level to provide that support?
I thank the noble Baroness for having given notice of her supplementary question and of the view she takes on the need for collaboration across government. We share that view. The previous Government issued extensive statutory guidance to local authorities and other interested parties—the latest guidance being Working Together, issued earlier this year—with precisely the aim of supporting closer working in areas such as finding suitable accommodation. We entirely agree that these children are extremely vulnerable and should get the best protection possible. I think it is true to say that CEOP is currently rolling out initiatives, the details of which I do not have, but I know that they are under way. At the national level, we are reviewing the operation of the national referral mechanisms—which I think my honourable friend the Minister with responsibility for immigration mentioned in the other place—with the aim of encouraging further co-operation among the agencies involved.
How many children are involved in this terrible trade?
My Lords, this is one of those things where you cannot always be certain what you do not know. However, we believe that the figure for the last year was in the order of 325 children.
My Lords, I declare an interest as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Trafficking. I assume that the Minister has read the report from the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group, Wrong kind of victim?. In it, it appears that the national referral mechanism treats children who are trafficked as not in fact being victims for the purposes of the convention. What are the Government going to do about that?
I had not heard that the national referral mechanism was not treating children as it should. I shall certainly look into that. But I think it fair to say that observations made by that organisation are among the reasons why the Government have agreed to look at the functioning of the national referral mechanism.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that housing trafficked children in care accommodation could place those vulnerable children at risk of further exploitation, particularly of sexual abuse? Will she ensure that work with CEOP and other organisations looks at that in particular and bears it in mind?
I entirely take the noble Baroness’s point and will certainly bear it in mind.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that there are grounds for thinking that support for child victims is hampered by failure first of all to identify them, often wrongly criminalising them? No adequate facilities are in place to support them yet. Does she agree that that therefore implies that we should have more dealings with children’s services and NGOs at a much earlier time? Furthermore, is she confident that we are complying with Articles 10 and 12 of the convention?
My Lords, the Government would agree that this is a very difficult area of policy and that we encounter considerable difficulties in identifying the status of children when they arrive. It is not always clear whether they have been trafficked or whether they have been smuggled into the country—and those are two different things. So dealing with some of these individuals lacks clarity. However, I do not accept that the Government are not trying to do their very best. One object of having the review is to see whether we cannot do things better. We believe that we are in compliance with our convention obligations.
My Lords, how many prosecutions have there been in the past two years in respect of trafficking, and how many of those have ended in conviction?
There certainly have been prosecutions. I am not sure that I can give the noble Lord the actual figure, but I shall certainly write to him. The most reverend Primate also raised this issue of criminalisation. There are people who have previously been trafficked who then exploit other children who have been trafficked for the purposes of criminal activity. There have been examples in cannabis farms. So it is right to prosecute those who engage themselves in criminal activity.
The Minister has twice referred to CEOP, a very valuable agency created by the previous Administration which is very highly valued by the public. It is therefore not clear why the Government have decided, in their new regime, that CEOP should not exist any longer. Is it to be merged with another body? More importantly, can the Minister assure me that there will be no less funding than there is at the moment so that its valuable work can continue?
My Lords, the functions of CEOP will certainly remain within the new structure for the National Crime Agency. There is no intention to abolish those functions. As to the budget figure, obviously I cannot give an assurance of that kind until we know the outcome of the CSR review. But I note the point that has been made.
My Lords, we are aware of work going on to anticipate problems around the Olympics as regards trafficked women. Is this a problem that has been identified as regards trafficked children as well? If so, are steps being taken to address it during the two sets of Games?
My noble friend is right to say that this is potentially a vulnerable point. We have the Olympics particularly in mind and will be looking to see what measures are necessary.
My Lords, are these children returned to their countries of origin, and what protection is given to those children who have been sexually assaulted, who might be considered by their families to have besmirched the family honour?
My Lords, I am not aware of any particular category of children who fall into those circumstances. But it is certainly the case that every child coming within the category of a trafficked individual has a social worker attached to them who examines and takes account of their needs before putting forward a plan for their safeguarding.