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Child trafficking happens closer to us than we think. Last year in the UK, over five thousand children were identified by the National Referral Mechanism as victims of modern slavery and human trafficking.
Most strikingly, British children are the most common nationality among children trafficked within our borders. This should serve as an important reminder that human trafficking does not just exist in transit between countries but also in our own communities. As in Sir Mo Farah’s case, trafficking into domestic servitude occurred after he had arrived in the UK.
Child trafficking can take many forms, from county lines where children are groomed into gangs to distribute drugs around the country, to sexual exploitation of both girls and boys. However, unlike these forms of trafficking – which often see children in public places – domestic servitude is hidden in residential homes, which can make it remarkably hard to identify. It often operates through extended family networks or by other trusted figures in a child’s life.
In Sir Mo’s experience, it was a teacher who he confided in who helped him. This should be a reminder that all schools must be aware of potential exploitation and human trafficking that pupils could be subject to, in both familial and extra-familial settings. It is important for teachers to be trained in recognising possible indicators of trafficking, as they have the capacity to change the course of victims’ lives, and disrupt the abuses they are experiencing.
Sir Mo’s courageous sharing of his story is also important in the context of the passing of the Nationality and Borders Act. The act places new restrictions on the time limits that survivors of human trafficking have to disclose their experience to authorities. His story reminds us that it takes time for victims of human trafficking to disclose their experiences, not only due to the impact of trauma but also the very real threat of deportation.
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Speaking out about crimes inflicted on survivors is to risk both deportation and citizen deprivation, even as a child victim of the most unthinkable crimes. There are needs for safe pathways to stay in this country and long-term support. Sir Mo turned to running to help process his trauma and escape his abuse, and survivors need support tailored to them to begin the recovery journey. Without these, the experiences of victims of human trafficking remain hidden, perpetrators do not face sentencing and victims live in fear.
Sir Mo and other voices of survivors have the power to challenge inaccurate perceptions of trafficking, reminding us that child trafficking is still a reality for thousands of children in the UK today. There is still so much work to be done to eradicate such abuses and support survivors to find freedom and life after trauma.
By being identified as a victim at an early age and offered support to thrive, Sir Mo went on to win 10 global championship gold medals and received a knighthood. If every child victim of trafficking was given stability and long-term support, I wonder what they could achieve?
Jasmine Selby is communications officer at the Human Trafficking Foundation