Za's story

Article 4 - Prohibition of slavery and forced labour.

Za , 14, came to the attention of Harrow Council and the London Safeguarding Children Board when he appeared in court following a police raid on a cannabis farm. Staff at the young offenders’ institute where he was being held suspected the boy may have been trafficked. Za was referred to the council’s unaccompanied minors team.

Za told the team that he had been 'befriended' by people he had met while sleeping rough in Kent. These people offered him accommodation and food. In return, he was expected to work for them in cannabis factories. He was often moved around from house to house and was beaten if he refused to carry out any tasks. On one occasion, his 'boss' held his face over a gas cooker because he refused to move house and he required hospital treatment. Za was very vague about the details of how he arrived in Britain from Vietnam, and his interviewers concluded there were grounds to suspect that he had been trafficked.

Under the new guidance, authorities can act if they suspect that a child has been trafficked - even if they can't prove it.

In early 2009, the London Safeguarding Children Board piloted new guidance to help social workers, teachers, police, health workers and other professionals to identify and support trafficked children. This aimed to bring agencies together more effectively, and to enable them to act swiftly in cases of suspected trafficking.

Previously, a local authority had to prove 'exploitation' had occurred before a child could be treated as a victim of trafficking. Under the new guidance, authorities can act if they suspect that a child has been trafficked - even if they can't prove it. Philip Ishola, of Harrow Council and the London Safeguarding Children Board, explains: 'It was a phenomenal shift, absolutely huge... [the legislation] lifted a weight off our shoulders and allowed us to act swiftly... It puts children’s human rights at the heart of our approach.'

It puts children's human rights at the heart of our approach.

As a result of the new approach, Harrow Council were able to remove Za from the traffickers and take him into care. Za had been charged with the cultivation of cannabis and remanded at a young offenders’ institute. After he was confirmed as a victim of trafficking the charges were dropped.

The project was successfully piloted across 12 local authority areas for 18 months. During the pilot phase, 56 child victims of trafficking were safeguarded. The project is now being rolled out nationally, with support from the Department for Education.

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