Children forced to tend cannabis factories in slavery cases, NSPCC warns

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Children are being forced to tend cannabis factories and commit street crimes, a leading charity has warned as it raised the alarm over the hidden toll of child slavery in the UK.

The NSPCC said youngsters around the country also face sexual exploitation and punishing physical labour.

A team set up by the organisation 10 years ago to provide advice in child trafficking cases has received nearly 2,000 referrals, with babies among those reported as potential victims.

The NSPCC said the secretive nature of modern-day slavery means this number is likely to be a fraction of the true scale of the problem.

Exploitation for sex or labour and domestic servitude were among the main concerns flagged up in referrals to the NSPCC's Child Trafficking Advice Centre (CTAC).

Children being used for criminal exploitation such as cultivating cannabis or committing street crimes were among the other reasons for reports, according to the charity.

It said Vietnamese children made up a fifth of all those referred to the centre since it was set up, with Romanians, Nigerians and Afghans among other nationalities flagged to the service.

Vietnamese children made up a fifth of all those referred to the centre since it opened (PA)
Vietnamese children made up a fifth of all those referred to the centre since it opened (PA)

The NSPCC is calling for increased training among professionals, a global "best practice" approach to safeguarding of child trafficking victims to be adopted, and the creation of a single international database to boost child protection efforts.

Mandy John-Baptiste, head of the CTAC, said: "People don't like to think about the real age of the young person they're paying for sex with, why a child might be 'helping out' in their nail bar, or why their cleaner or child care is so cheap. It's an ugly truth to admit.

"This is a child protection issue and it's not going away. Professionals must open their eyes and be able to spot the warning signs, and work with other agencies so that we can jointly take action to prevent and protect children from this form of abuse."

British national Joesphine Iyamu, 50, has been charged under the Modern Slavery Act for trafficking young women.https://t.co/ytOBxftI9apic.twitter.com/OeTfEktbp3

-- NationalCrimeAgency (@NCA_UK) September 6, 2017

Last month the National Crime Agency warned that modern slavery and human trafficking in the UK are much more prevalent than previously thought, with cases affecting "every large town and city in the country".

In 2013, research by the Home Office estimated that there were between 10,000 and 13,000 potential victims of modern slavery.

NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless said: "Many believe slavery couldn't possibly go on today, yet the problem is all too real.

"We must expose the dark underbelly of slavery that, sometimes, goes on right under our noses, and bring those responsible to justice.

"These are children who have been denied their basic human rights and are bound by their enslavers, who will force them into the most degrading, hopeless life imaginable."