Modern slavery – the child dimension

Sadly serious youth violence and knife crime does not seem to be abating. I wrote about knife crime at this time last year when our annual safeguarding conference in London was looking at a number of topics which we are now starting to term ‘contextual safeguarding', and I suggested that churches could usefully apply their safeguarding knowledge and experience to support their own young people and help keep them safe. Easier said than done though, and there is still work to be done to resource such an approach.


Modern slavery involving children is another aspect of ‘contextual safeguarding’ and recently published figures help us to scale this problem. In 2018 there were 1,421 recorded cases of modern slavery involving children, up from 626 in 2017, so a 100% plus increase in a year. Of these cases, 987 were linked to ‘labour exploitation, often by criminal gangs and their use of ‘county lines’ illegal drug sales. This is a very worrying statistic and it’s likely that in some of our London boroughs there will be individuals known to young people in our church communities who are affected by this.


The figures, published in the Observer on March 24th, also show that there were 130 nationalities from which potential victims of trafficking came. UK, Albanian and Vietnamese nationals are the most commonly reported victims. At the same time there are currently 1,500 criminal investigations taking place linked to modern slavery.

The BBC TV drama series ‘Shetland’, which finished its current run just last week, also focussed on trafficking and modern slavery, demonstrating that no part of our islands is immune from the issue. It’s also clear that trying to address root causes and tackle individual cases is way beyond our capacity as church safeguarders, so what can we do if we don’t want simply to despair at what we are learning?


It starts with making sure the young people in our churches are well supported, provided with the facts about the things that can confront them and that we keep our ears to the ground for information we can share with the modern slavery reporting line at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/how-to-report-modern-slavery. Good youth work is about promoting awareness, encouraging resilience and enabling young people to flourish, and so if we can deliver that, we can go a long way towards preventing this type of abuse.


The old instruction to watch and pray, and then report, has never seemed so apposite.

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