Immigration minister Mark Harper has said the government will do all it can to "crack down on people involved in the vile trade [of trafficking]" after reports showed the number of children trafficked is rising.

Last year, the inter-departmental ministerial group on human trafficking learned of 946 trafficking victims, up from 710 in 2010, with over a quarter of those aged under-18s.

The figures also suggest that the 'reasons' why children are trafficked have widened and Mandy John-Baptiste, Head of the NSPCC's Child Trafficking Advice Centre, said: "Historically, the figures have shown that the majority of children have been trafficked for sexual exploitation purposes.

"However, since February of this year we have seen a marked increase in trafficking for criminal purposes such as cannabis cultivation and street crime. Irrespective of the classification, child trafficking is child abuse, which is why we - along with our partners UKHTC and CEOP - are working with agencies both here and in the countries of origin to try to prevent children from being abused."

The government report said better co-ordination between its departments and with authorities abroad was key but anti-slavery groups warned government "failures" had led to "significant steps back" in the fight.

However, Det Insp Kevin Hyland, of London's Metropolitan Police said that it was often "almost impossible" for border guards to spot victims because they often did not even know they were being trafficked.

"While some victims travel to the UK in lorries or containers, the majority arrived lawfully, often accompanied by their traffickers. The vast majority of them think they're coming to a better life in the UK, so it is very hard to identify them [when they arrive]," he added.

There are an estimated 92 organised crime groups in the UK with known involvement in human trafficking while 142 defendants were charged with offences related to human trafficking in 2011/12.

Thousands of "front-line" workers, including border staff, police and healthcare workers, have been trained to better identify, support and protect victims over the past two years while some airlines, including Virgin Atlantic and Thomas Cook, are also training cabin crew to identify those who engaged in trafficking and their potential victims.

Posted 18/10/2012 by richard.hook@pavpub.com