'Child Trafficking: Experiences of separated children on the move

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Despite the increased interest in human trafficking, the body of academic research on or with children and young people defined as ‘trafficked’ is particularly limited. Since the establishment of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child listening to the voices of children has become a “powerful and pervasive mantra for activists and policy makers world-wide” (James, 2007, cited by Goździak, 2008) and yet, many social science researchers have omitted children as active participants informing knowledge and theory about issues affecting children directly. This is particularly evident in ‘child trafficking’ research; children’s experiences have notably been unrepresented.
The findings of a recent study which addresses this gap is presented, a qualitative research methodology designed purposefully to give voice to children and young people’s experiences of ‘child trafficking’. Creative research methods of embodied circles of dance and music were utilised to engage children and young people in the research. In-depth interviews and focus groups with 20 participants were held to address the objectives:
• How do children experience their childhoods, separation, migration and being trafficked?
• How do they experience front-line services in England?
• Does the child trafficking framework meet their needs?
Children’s lived experiences of their childhood and ‘child trafficking’ challenge many assumptions underpinning policy and practice. The findings reveal a disjuncture between immigration-driven and prosecution focused ‘child trafficking’ practice and children requiring a welfare and individualised response to their needs. Children experienced front-line practitioners, including social workers, as giving primacy to immigration matters, with overtly discriminatory with xenophobic attitudes towards children from abroad. Children needed practitioners to listen to them, believe them and take action upon child protection concerns.
A conclusion is drawn that the way in which ‘child trafficking’ policy and practice in England is presently constructed, and experienced, appears not to reflect the lived ‘realties’ of young people in this study. Fundamentally, a conceptual shift in how we perceive childhood and adolescence is required. Universalist concepts of a normative childhood based on western values fail to sufficiently address different childhoods, in contemporary cross-cultural contexts of children’s policy, and especially policy relating to separated migrant children. An argument is presented that a reorientation of ‘child trafficking’ policy away from the criminal justice approach is necessary, towards policy and practice that centres on children and young people’s welfare needs and protection. This is echoed by what children and young people say they require when trafficked, more relational social work, and an individualised and humanistic approach in practice. Children need opportunities to develop trust with adults, social workers to listen and believe separated migrant children’s accounts of abuse, and offer advocacy to uphold their rights to equal access to services and support.
The significant role of peers was evidenced in this study at every stage in children’s journeys. Other children helped participants in abusive situations, facilitated escape and recovery from trauma. This signals an important message, contrary to current perceptions of children, that children can be agential and mobilise crucial support in absence of trusted adults.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished - 19 Apr 2018
EventEuropean Conference for Social Work Research: Social Work in Transition - University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK United Kingdom
Duration: 18 Apr 201820 Apr 2018
Conference number: 8


ConferenceEuropean Conference for Social Work Research
Country/TerritoryUK United Kingdom
Internet address


  • Child trafficking
  • Experience
  • policy
  • practice
  • children's perspectives


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