On 9th December 2013, the Bishop of Truro spoke in favour of Lord McColl’s amendment to the Government’s Children and Families Bill, during its Report Stage. The amendment sought to create child trafficking guardians for children who may have been victims of human trafficking. The amendment was later voted on – see here for more details.
The Lord Bishop of Truro: My Lords, I support the amendment and declare an interest as chairman of the Children’s Society. The noble Lord, Lord McColl, has already mentioned the report, Still at Risk, published jointly by the Children’s Society and the Refugee Council.
The amendment raises an important matter. Doubts over a child’s age, their lack of documentation or uncertainty about their immigration status impede a child’s ability to access effective support to meet their welfare needs. For example, 10 of the 17 young people mentioned in the study had their ages disputed. Some had undergone multiple age assessments before it was agreed by the authorities that they were, in fact, children. Disputing a child’s age has serious safeguarding implications for them and can put them at serious risk. In the Still at Risk report, it was found that failure to recognise that they were children or victims of trafficking resulted in three of the young people who were interviewed being sent to adult prison, and two to an immigration removal centre. Several of the young people in the study did no know which country they were in because of the tight control exerted over them by their exploiters. The guidance on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states:
“Agencies or individuals whose interests could potentially be in conflict with those of the child’s should not be eligible for guardianship”.
The Children’s Society and others believe that local authority children’s services are indeed such agencies. A common problem for separated migrant children, including child victims of human trafficking, who may have entered the country without documents or on false papers is that their age is disputed by the Home Office and by local authorities, and that these agencies are unwilling to support them. Until the age of a person is verified, they should be treated as children, not adults, for the purposes of accessing support.
The case for guardians, as set out in the amendment, is supported by many international and domestic bodies, including the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Council of Europe expert group on trafficking and, most recently, the Joint Committee on Human Rights in its inquiry into unaccompanied migrant children and young people. That is supported in the long-standing position of the Refugee Children’s Consortium, a coalition of more than 40 non-governmental organisations working with children caught up in the immigration system. I urge the Minister to think carefully in the response to the amendment, which is an important initiative that is much needed by the research called for earlier.