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The Nationality and Borders Bill risks eroding protections for child victims of modern slavery

3 min read

In the last few years, the public has repeatedly heard that the United Kingdom’s immigration system is being abused.

We have been told that our government wants to break the business model of people smuggling networks and protect the lives of those they endanger, and that the Nationality and Borders Bill will create “a fairer and more efficient immigration system”.   

There are widespread doubts whether the government’s plans will really deliver this. Alongside the changes to immigration and asylum rules, the Bill also proposes a significant overhaul of the way that we treat victims of modern slavery. At The Children’s Society we have grave concerns about these changes, in particular, because they would erode existing safeguards and protections for child victims of modern slavery, trafficking and exploitation.  

The Bill will make it harder for children to be recognised as victims and get the support they need

That’s why we are supporting a Lords amendment to the Nationality and Borders Bill, due to be debated by MPs today. This crucial amendment would exempt child victims from the most damaging provisions in Part 5 of the Bill, ensuring that all decisions are made in their best interests and recognise, protect, and support some of the most vulnerable children in our society.

This is even more vital as the government’s proposals not only apply to young people from other countries who have been trafficked to the UK, but also British children referred to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM).    

There are parts of this Bill that will make it harder for them to not only be recognised as victims but also get the support they need. For example, Clause 57 suggests a new slavery or trafficking information notice. This would be issued to potential victims, who would then have a certain length of time to disclose all the evidence of their abuse and trafficking.   

Child trafficking is a form of child abuse - how can we expect a child to provide evidence of their own trafficking, and within a strict time period at that? We know it can take years for these children to be able to recount what has happened to them, with many never feeling able to do so.   

Another example is Clause 62 which proposes preventing child victims – who have either been prosecuted for particular offences or served custodial sentences of over a year – from being referred to the NRM. Almost half of all identified potential victims in the National Referral Mechanism are children, and many of those are from the UK.  

These are child victims of modern slavery. They may have been exploited into carrying out criminal and sexual activities – for example county lines– as part of their abuse, which means they may well have been prosecuted for certain crimes they were forced to commit.  

Identifying child victims of modern slavery and human trafficking is a safeguarding matter, not an immigration one. The 2015 Modern Slavery Act made huge strides in recognising the issue and in protecting victims. However, this new Bill would reverse these achievements. 

International law states children should be given special rights, yet this Bill does not do that. It does not explicitly recognise or protect children as a group in their own right. 

Instead, we have heard again and again how the government feels this is unnecessary and will address the rights of children through additional guidance and secondary legislation; that children’s cases will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.  

Frankly this is unacceptable. That’s why The Children’s Society and our partners are hoping today MPs will vote for the Lord’s amendments and ensure this government continues to protect child victims of trafficking, exploitation and modern slavery. 


Mark Russell is the chief executive of The Children’s Society.

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