Be alert to signs of child trafficking

Late last year, three people were convicted of trafficking girls from Vietnam and forcing them to work in nail bars across England. The conviction was described as the first successful UK prosecution involving minors under new legislation.

Sentenced on 2 January, Viet Nguyen, 29, and Thu Nguyen, 48, were found guilty of arranging the transport of people with a view to exploitation and were jailed for four and five years respectively at Stafford Crown Court. Giang Tran, 23, received a two-year suspended sentence. All three defendants were convicted of requiring others to perform forced or compulsory labour.

The investigation began when police officers visited Nail Bar Deluxe in February 2016. They found two teenage girls, aged 17 and 18, working there for 60 hours a week. One was being paid about £30 a month while the second was not paid. They were staying at the four-bedroom home of the owner. One lived in a tiny room, while the other slept on a mattress in the attic. The girls had come to the UK in search of a better life, escaping poverty in Vietnam.

Identifying trafficking

A child is trafficked if they are recruited, transported, transferred, harboured or received for the purpose of exploitation. Trafficking does not have to occur over national borders, so children can be trafficked from one part of the UK to another. The system for identifying and supporting trafficking victims in the UK is called the National Referral Mechanism (NRM). Referrals to the NRM can only be made by certain public bodies, including social services and other organisations, all of whom are “first responders”. Under the Modern Slavery Act 2015, first responders are now under a duty to refer a victim of trafficking to the NRM for a decision to be made as to whether an individual is a victim of trafficking. It is important to note that a migrant child going through the NRM process should be assisted to obtain legal advice about the process and issues relating to their immigration status, such as asylum or other immigration options.

Risk of re-trafficking

In this case, two of the girls were placed in emergency foster care but went missing shortly afterwards. They were later found in another nail bar in another town in Staffordshire. This highlights one of the main issues for supporting child victims of trafficking once they are identified – the high risk of going missing from care and being re-trafficked.

Detective inspector Charlotte Tucker from Avon and Somerset Police who worked on the case called on the public to stay alert for signs of trafficking, highlighting that: “In the case of nail bars, warning signs could be very young-looking members of staff, low prices, a rapid turnover of staff or controlling behaviour by senior employees.”


The lack of prosecutions of human traffickers has been an ongoing issue. With the introduction of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and more awareness of trafficking generally, there has been an increase in the number of victims identified and referred for prosecution by the police. However, conviction rates have recently fallen, suggesting there is still more work to be done. Many of these cases will have limited evidence and children involved may be afraid of talking to the police. If child victims are not supported and made to feel safe from the point of identification to after the prosecution, they may not engage with any investigation or prosecution. In the case above, it was run as a “victimless prosecution”, where the victim does not necessarily co-operate with the prosecution or give evidence. This is more common in domestic abuse cases.

There are likely thousands of trafficked children working in the UK – 1,278 were identified in 2016 but the actual number is thought to be much higher – many of whom either do not recognise that they are victims or are too scared to come forward. It is crucial that those working with children are aware of the signs of trafficking and take appropriate action when concerned about trafficking.

Points for practice

  • Be aware of the signs of trafficking – the London Safeguarding Children Board has developed an assessment tool for identifying trafficked children.
  • If you are concerned about a child you are working with you should either refer to the National Referral Mechanism (if you are a first responder) or contact a first responder, such as social services, with your concerns.
  • You should ensure that a child victim of trafficking is effectively supported from identification and beyond – child victims are at high risk of going missing from care and being re-trafficked.
  • Find out more about child trafficking here.

This article was written by Stewart MacLachlan and appeared in Children and Young People Now as part of its monthly Legal Update here.