BRITISH children as young as 12 are being trafficked between UK towns for sex with paedophiles to make quick cash for criminal gangs.
Unscrupulous men are targeting orphans and other youngsters in children’s homes before hiring them out to the highest bidder – with some never seen again.
With profit in mind, the children in care are also being sold on to become servants, look after cannabis farms or act as drug couriers peddling heroin and cocaine up and down the country, said Barnardo’s.
The children’s charity said in 2015 around 1,000 children in the UK were referred to the government as potential victims of traffickers, but this figure was just the “tip of the iceberg”.
So concerned is the charity, it recently concluded its Independent Child Trafficking Advocates (ICTA) study.
The year-long study, focusing on a group of 158 trafficked children across 23 local authorities in the UK, was carried out to determine whether having an advocate helped safeguard the youngsters from further harm.
The majority of the children were trafficked from town to town for sexual exploitation, with some having gone missing from care after being lured away by the traffickers.
The study also found that some of the children then simply “vanished”, prompting a call for more to be done to find out what had happened to them.
A volunteer advocate was allocated a number of children and looked at all aspects of their care providing support in person, by telephone and speaking up for them.
An evaluation of the ICTA study said: “Much further work needs to be done to identify the variables that are linked to short and longer term disappearances, with a much larger sample of ‘missing’ children.”
And an advocate with the focus group is quoted in the report as saying: “As one advocate noted, perhaps there was a case for a specialist advocate focusing entirely on trafficked children who go missing.
“We need an advocate for the missing to make sure that somebody is constantly going, ‘Why aren’t you following this case up? Where is this person? What are the police doing?’ That could be a job for one person because I’m finding with some of mine that I’m the only person who’s interested.”
A total of 28 children in the study were from the UK while 110 others had been smuggled in by traffickers from countries outside the European Union (EU) including Vietnam and Albania.
The remainder were from EU countries.
Separate research by Barnardo’s revealed that sex traffickers have moved children from Birmingham to Sheffield, Cardiff to Blackpool and Middlesborough to Norwich where they have been abused.
The charity has also found there were cases of children being trafficked via boat from Scotland to Belfast for sexual exploitation.
The study offers a brief snapshot into the miserable lives of some of the UK’s most vulnerable children with tales of woe more akin to a Charles Dickens novel than 21st century Britain.
A Barnardo’s spokesman called on the government to do more to protect children in care from traffickers.
The spokesman said: “Due to the secretive nature of trafficking and inconsistency in collecting data across several agencies, it is difficult to definitively estimate the number of trafficked children in the UK.
“Trafficked children are still going missing from care across the country.
“Some children are in a cycle of going missing then returning to care. Others vanish.
“These children are dropping off the support network they do desperately need, as they’re not getting the right support to break them free from their traffickers.
“We urge the Home Secretary to establish advocates with legal powers so that they can compel public authorities to provide trafficked children with this support.
“Traffickers often use emotional and physical abuse to control children.
“Some may lure children in with false promises and others use threats, abuse and force.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “It is utterly appalling that children as young as 12 could be trafficked and sexually exploited in the UK.
“We are at a watershed moment in facing up to the scale of child sexual abuse and how we respond to it as a society.
“That is why this Government has made tackling the issue of child sexual abuse a national priority in the Strategic Policing Requirement, and in 2015 introduced the landmark Modern Slavery Act 2015, which included measures to support trafficked children.
“In 2015/16 we provided £7million funding to help organisations that support victims and survivors of sexual abuse. But we know there is more to be done and this Government will continue the urgent work of overhauling how our police, social services and other agencies work together to protect vulnerable children.”