Human Trafficking

What is Human Trafficking?

When we hear the term ‘human trafficking’, what do we understand by it? Do we think of illegal immigration or irregular migrants entering the country in a clandestine way? Or do we think about twenty-first century slavery that Christians, as part of their social responsibility, should be seeking to eradicate?

Put simply, human trafficking is when a person is moved from one country to another for the purpose of exploitation and/or abuse. It is important not to confuse illegal immigration or human smuggling with trafficking, though there may be similarities in the enforced transportation of a person to another country. The distinct difference is that whilst some people may for economic, family, health or political reasons want to live in another country and enter illegally, (what is commonly referred to as smuggling) those who are trafficked are tricked, coerced, lured or forced by criminals to work for them or others in their criminal networks around the world. Children living in the UK can also be targeted and trafficked internally. In 2000 the U.N. adopted three protocols known as the Palermo Protocols addressing trafficking. In these protocols human trafficking is broken down into three processes – recruitment, movement and exploitation.

Definition of Trafficking

“the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other means of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payment or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”

(Article 3 of the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing the UN Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime CH5815 2003)

Scale of the problem

The United Kingdom is one of the most prominent destination countries for people to be trafficked to in Europe. The Metropolitan Police estimate that over 20,000 people are trafficked into and throughout the UK every year. Due to the crime’s hidden and criminal nature, gathering exact numbers remains a constant problem, it is only by equipping people to spot it and report it, and gathering that information will a clearer picture begin to emerge. By its very nature, trafficking is covert and secretive however UNICEF estimates that 1.2 million children are trafficked each year. Other organisations estimate the figure to be far higher. Children are trafficked for a variety of reasons. The International Labour Organisation defines child trafficking as anything that ‘is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children’, and this includes compulsory labour, child prostitution, production of pornography and the offering of a child for illicit activities.

Some children are tricked by an offer of what seems to be good employment with promises such as the opportunity for the child to enhance their education. Other children are accompanied into the UK by a so-called relative acting on behalf of the parents. Once in the country they are denied wages or any financial security and forced into a life of domestic servitude. Their passport (if they have one) will be taken from them and because of their age and/ or illegal status they have no way of escaping their life of abject cruelty. In places of worship, legitimate concerns can arise if say a child or young person seems isolated or disconnected from other family members. They may also have assumed a caring role for the family’s biological children.


What are the causes of human trafficking?

The main reason individuals and gangs become involved in trafficking is financial reward. It is classic supply and demand with a ready supply of children and adults, a willing clientele and high profits to be made at minimal risk of getting caught. Individuals and families can be drawn into the trade due to a number of ‘push’ factors such as extreme poverty (parents may hand a child over to a trafficker for money), greed or unemployment. Beyond these issues, lack of education and information, peer pressure, naivety and ignorance all have a part to play. There are also many pull factors too, including the expectation of employment or financial reward, improved social position, or access to material benefits in other countries.

The victims of trafficking are often forced into:

  • Prostitution and servicing the sex trade
  • Domestic servitude
  • Labour exploitation
  • Benefit Fraud
  • Begging
  • Illegal adoption
  • Private Fostering
  • Forced Marriage
  • Organ harvesting
  • Criminal activities
  • Armed conflicts & exploitation in the army

Where does trafficking take place?

Trafficking is a global issue and involves the trade of humans not only between countries adjacent to each other but also across continents. It is dependent on a variety of factors that can be economically, politically, socially and culturally driven. The numbers involved are generally dictated by supply and demand, in other words between source countries and those receiving. Where demand for sexual services in one particular country or continent increases, the supply will also tend to increase. In 2009, the charity ‘Save the Children’ reported: ‘high numbers of children trafficked for exploitative purposes in South Eastern Europe’, identifying ‘weak child protection systems, lack of financial and technical resources, limited understanding of factors that make children exposed to trafficking and failure to address the root causes and the structural dimension of the problem.’

Criminal gangs circumvent border controls to traffic children into the UK from all over the world including parts of the African continent. There have even been allegations that church pastors have been involved in bringing children to the UK illegally. It is ironic that the very slave trade that was abolished by the intervention of Christian philanthropists is being encouraged and maintained by a minority of rogue individuals who align themselves to Christianity. ‘Organised trafficking networks are continuing to exploit asylum and accommodation procedures to traffic or facilitate unaccompanied children into the UK.’ Strategic Threat Assessment Child Trafficking in the UK, CEOP April 2009.

How do the traffickers avoid detection?

It is obviously in a criminal’s interest to avoid detection. Criminal networks use all sorts of means to prevent anyone within their networks betraying them. Traffickers are no different and won’t hesitate to employ threats and coercion (physical, mental, financial, spiritual and sociological) to enforce discipline and loyalty, prevent disclosure of their crimes by fellow criminals (traders) and suppress their victims (slaves). The common element for all those involved is fear for their own lives or that of relatives and friends. These criminal networks also bribe officials, use false documentation, and other forms of corruption to achieve their ends. There have been instances where West African children trafficked to the UK, have been lured or forced into religious ceremonies carried out by an indigenous traditional priest or ‘witchdoctor’ that binds the child to their traffickers through fear of death by ‘spirit gods’, entrapping children through rituals and beliefs.

There are various ways of controlling a trafficked child which can include:

  • Debt bondage
  • Isolation by removal of identification and/or travel documents
  • Linguistic and social isolation
  • Violence and fear
  • Threats of reprisals against the victim’s family
  • Psychological including imprisonment and torture
  • Religious beliefs and practices such as spells and curses

Private Fostering

‘Private Fostering Arrangements continue to be abused by exploiters, who are not related to the children by blood, to obtain custody of these children for exploitation, such as in benefit fraud or domestic servitude’. Strategic Threat Assessment Child Trafficking in the UK, CEOP April 2009 Another area where child trafficking may be present and connected to those who attend church is private fostering. Although the majority of private fostering arrangements are positive and successful, there is growing concern that bogus arrangements can be used as a cover for trafficked children.

Under the Children (Private Arrangements for Fostering) Regulations 2005 parents must inform Children’s Services if they arrange private fostering for their child. Also, anyone looking after someone else’s child who is not a close relative has a legal obligation to notify Children’s Services of the arrangement in writing at least six weeks before the placement commences. This enables the local authority to ensure the arrangements are safe and that the foster parents are suitable. There is an additional requirement under these regulations that both paid staff and volunteers notify Children’s Services if they become aware of private fostering arrangements. This would obviously include workers in places of worship.

Legislation addressing trafficking

The primary legislation relevant to trafficking for sexual exploitation is the Sexual Offences Act 2003. Sections 57-59 create three trafficking offences. The Modern Slavery Act 2015 gives powers to the police and other law enforcement agencies to bring to justice those engaged in human trafficking and slavery, servitude and any forced or compulsory labour. It also introduces measures to enhance the protection of victims of slavery and trafficking, as well as the provision of an Independent Antislavery Commissioner. The Act also introduces Slavery and Trafficking Prevention Orders (STPOs) and Slavery and Trafficking Risk Orders (STROs) which can restrict the activity of individuals who have either been convicted of a slavery of human trafficking offence or where it is believed someone is involved in these crimes.

How can we recognise and deal with Human Trafficking in the Church?

Although it is very difficult to identify trafficked children, within a place of worship there are certain pointers that suggest a child may be caught up in domestic servitude, benefit fraud, illegal adoption and/or sexual exploitation.

They are:

  • disconnection with siblings and/or parents
  • a significant age gap to younger members of the family which is quite apparent
  • not socialising apart from church on Sunday
  • often babysitting for the family
  • treated more harshly by the parents compared to other members of the family
  • erratic school attendance
  • carrying heavy shopping and following the family in a subservient way
  • marked differences in physical features to other children in the family
  • becoming insular, sad and lonely
  • regular health issues that sometimes go untreated including marks, bruises or other injuries.
  • clothed in less expensive or inappropriate clothing compared to the rest of the family
  • looking undernourished compared to siblings
  • scolded or bullied by siblings
  • frustration expressed through outbursts of anger • regularly moving church or home with the family to prevent detection
  • being introduced as a new child within an existing family in the church
  • displaying sexually precocious or inappropriate sexual behaviour
  • under/early-age pregnancy

It is important for the place of worship to ensure there is an up to date child and adults safeguarding policy operating that includes dealing with trafficking issues and, as with any suspected abuse, how to bring concerns to the attention of the Safeguarding Coordinator and report them to the police and/or Children’s Services. It may be helpful for someone within the congregation to attend dedicated training events to raise awareness of trafficking issues and be equipped to deal with any situations should they arise. It goes without saying that victims of trafficking should be offered pastoral support and although confidentiality is important, this must never be at the expense of a child who may be at risk.

If you are concerned that a child may have been trafficked then contact the police or make a referral or receive advice at the Salvation Army Human Trafficking Helpline on 0300 3038151. The Government established a National Referral Mechanism (NRM) in April 2009. The NRM provides a framework for agencies such as the Police, Local Authorities and NGO’s to work together and share information. The Salvation Army is a First Responder, which means that they can make referrals into the NRM on behalf of an individual or make the referral if another front-line agency isn’t a First Responder and offer support to those that have already been referred by another agency.   They can also offer other advice and support. In the absence of a clear safeguarding policy or you are unsure what to do, you can always contact our helpline on 0303 003 11 11.

Useful Contacts:


A21 campaign

CTE - Churches Combatting Modern Slavery – Human Trafficking (CCMS-HT)

Stop the Traffik

Human Trafficking Foundation


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