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UK child exploitation levels ‘almost back to Victorian times’ says anti-slavery czar

UK child exploitation levels ‘almost back to Victorian times’ says anti-slavery czar
The UK’s anti-slavery and trafficking czar has made a damning indictment with claims that child exploitation there has now almost reached Victorian-era levels. He cites the operations of drug gangs as a major cause.

Shaun Sawyer, chief constable of Devon and Cornwall Police and the UK lead on slavery and human trafficking, said drug gangs exploit the space between “the school gate and the front door” which he described as a vacuum left in the wake of government cuts for child services and increased austerity measures under the Conservative government. 

“More police officers will make a dent, but it won’t stop the causes. One of the solutions to the causes is the gap between the dysfunctional home and the school,” Sawyer said. 

The UK has seen a 74 percent rise in exploitation of majority-British-national children, reaching some 726 people in 2019.

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At least 638 children under 18 claimed to have suffered criminal exploitation in three months, mostly related to the illegal drug trade, which uses children as drug mules and debt collectors, especially in smaller rural communities far from their own homes. 

There were a reported 1,739 live modern slavery operations in Britain, encompassing figures for both children and adults, compared with a reported 180 operations in January 2016. 

“For these children they are almost back to Victorian times and are being criminally exploited. These kids are looking for family and security,” Sawyer added, decrying the sharp increase in the number of child grooming victims over the last five years and citing a lack of youth facilities and school exclusions. 

There were approximately 18,700 suspected child grooming victims in 2018-19, up from some 3,300 just five years ago. 

“For understandable reasons of austerity, state youth services have been vacated. This gap of youth provision between the school and family is the void that the exploiters are filling.”

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Sawyer also warned against gender bias in law enforcement and urged seeing boys as victims of the same exploitation. 

“We accept that a 14-year-old girl does not make a choice to sleep with multiple men. I don’t think it is an informed choice to choose repeatedly to steal or deal drugs, and then hand over the profits,” Sawyer concluded.

“We’ve learned that girls who are exploited can be victims, but we seem unable or unwilling to learn the same lessons for boys where criminal exploitation is concerned.”

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