Personal advocates with legal powers will be appointed to child victims of trafficking, following a decision in the House of Lords to make last minute changes to the Modern Slavery Bill.
The news comes as a result of a sustained campaign by children’s and refugee organisations, including the Refugee Council, which has called for greater protection of trafficking victims.
The changes mean that trafficking victims’ independent advocates will have statutory status and the power to appoint and instruct legal representation for the children they support.
The Refugee Council has been fighting for this change after our joint research with The Children’s Society revealed too many child trafficking victims were being let down by the authorities who were supposed to be protecting them.
Advocates with legal powers are vital as trafficked children often do not disclose that they have been trafficked because they have been manipulated by their trafficker; are afraid of what the trafficker will do to their family; or have not understood or psychologically accepted that they have been trafficked. This may particularly be the case if they have been trafficked by a family member.
Children have to instruct their own lawyers, even if they have little understanding of their situation; meaning in reality their lawyer can often act without fully informed instruction.
An advocate with legal powers can also hold local authorities to account, ensuring that a child is supported and their best interests are championed throughout the process.
Refugee Council Policy Manager Judith Dennis said: “This is an important step forward in ensuring that the best interests of child trafficking victims are safeguarded by an independent adult who they can trust. The next logical step for the Government to make would be to extend the same protection to all separated children to ensure that no child is left unsupported or put at further risk.”
The Modern Slavery Bill is due to become law in March.