[ Country-by-Country Reports ]

UNITED KINGDOM (UK) (TIER 1)   [Extracted from U.S. State Dept Trafficking in Persons Report, June 2009]

The United Kingdom (UK) is a significant destination and, to a lesser extent, transit country for women, children, and men trafficked for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor, primarily from Eastern Europe, Africa, the Balkans, and Asia (principally China, Vietnam, and Malaysia). Some victims, including UK-resident children, are also trafficked within the country. Migrant workers are trafficked to the UK for forced labor in agriculture, construction, food processing, domestic servitude, and food services. Data collected from assisted women trafficked for sexual exploitation revealed that Lithuania, Nigeria, and Moldova were the leading sources of trafficking victims in the UK in 2008. Unaccompanied foreign children, including girls from the PRC, were trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labor. It is estimated that hundreds of young children, mostly from Vietnam and China, are trafficked to the UK and subjected to debt bondage by Vietnamese organized crime gangs for forced work on cannabis farms. Media reports and results from law enforcement operations indicate a large-scale trafficking problem in Scotland, involving both women and children for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Inadequate protection measures for these victims result in their re-trafficking throughout the UK. London police estimate that 70 percent of the 88,000 women involved in prostitution in England and Wales are under the control of traffickers. There is anecdotal evidence that some trafficking may occur, although not on a large scale, in some UK territories such as Bermuda.

The Government of the United Kingdom fully complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. Over the last year, UK authorities continued to vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking and conducted innovative demand reduction and prevention campaigns. Concerns remain that some victims, including children, are not being adequately identified or receiving adequate protection and assistance.

Recommendations for the United Kingdom: Adopt and implement national procedures for identifying potential trafficking victims among vulnerable populations for all forms of trafficking in the UK; expand shelter and assistance capacity to meet the needs of all trafficking victims, including specialized care for children who have been trafficked; establish protection measures specifically for foreign unaccompanied minors to prevent their trafficking; and ensure repatriation and reintegration services for victims to prevent their re-trafficking and re-victimization.

The UK Government sustained its aggressive efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenders in 2008, doubling its conviction rate from the previous year. The UK prohibits all forms of trafficking through its 2004 Sexual Offenses Act and its 2004 Asylum and Immigration Act, which prescribe penalties of a maximum of 14 years’ imprisonment, though the specific punishments prescribed for sex trafficking are less severe than those prescribed for rape. In March 2008, the government completed Pentameter II, a large-scale operation aimed at disrupting trafficking networks and rescuing victims, resulting in the identification of 167 potential trafficking victims, the arrest of 528 suspects and over $5 million in assets seized or forfeited. The UK government reported prosecuting 129 ongoing trafficking cases between March 2008 and March 2009. Twenty-three trafficking offenders were convicted -- four of whom were prosecuted for forced labor offenses -- an increase from 10 in 2007. Sentences imposed on convicted trafficking offenders in 2008 ranged from 18 months’ to 14 years’ imprisonment, with an average sentence of five years. In one case, a court sentenced six trafficking offenders to a combined total of 52 years for the trafficking of a Slovakian teenager for the purpose of sexual exploitation from 2006 until her escape in January 2008.

The UK government demonstrated sustained efforts to protect victims of sex trafficking in 2008, but it did not provide comprehensive or systematic protections to trafficked children and victims of forced labor. The government provided significant funding for its specialized shelter for sex trafficking victims, allocating $1.95 million for its operation in 2008. Overall, the shelter received 293 referrals, with law enforcement referring the majority of potential victims. However, due to budget restraints and limited capacity, only 41 women were accommodated by the shelter; others were assisted on an outreach basis with counseling, subsistence allowances, medical treatment, education and training, and legal support. In addition, some of the victims who were not accommodated at the shelter did not meet all of the government’s criteria for admission: victims must be over 18; involved in prostitution within three months of referral; willing to cooperate in the prosecution of their traffickers; and must have been trafficked into the UK from abroad. The government provided training to front-line responders on victim identification and continued to develop nationwide and systematic referral system to improve identification for potential trafficking victims. NGOs and international organizations continue to express serious concerns regarding the government’s ability to protect children from traffickers in the UK; the government does not provide systematic and specialized victim care for children who have been trafficked. Many children who are trafficked into the UK from Vietnam and China for forced work on cannabis farms disappear after being placed into foster care by social services -- likely returning to their traffickers. Moreover, some of these children are prosecuted by the government for cannabis cultivation. While UK government policy is not to penalize victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked, some victims continue to be charged and prosecuted for immigration offenses. The UK provides foreign victims with legal alternatives to their removal to countries where they face hardship or retribution. According to NGOs, however, this process continues to be cumbersome and inconsistent for victims seeking such alternatives. To remedy this, the government ratified the Council of Europe’s Convention against Trafficking in December 2008 and agreed to provide a 45-day reflection period and renewable one-year residence permits. The government encourages victims to assist in trafficking investigations and prosecutions.

The UK government continued to serve as a model in the region for its emphasis on progressive anti-trafficking prevention campaigns. It continued its “Blue Blindfold” awareness campaign, launched in January 2008 in 12 major cities in the UK. The government makes its campaign materials available to countries for replication and dissemination. In May 2008, it piloted an anti-demand poster campaign in Westminster and Nottingham to alert potential clients of prostitution about trafficking and off-street prostitution; the campaign also included online advertisements in local newspapers. In November 2008, it published the results of a six-month review which recommended steps to reduce demand for prostitution. In June 2008, the government revised its action plan to update progress and to reflect victim protection developments on ratifying the Council of Europe Convention. The government continued to fund targeted prevention projects in key source countries including Bulgaria, Romania, and many countries in Asia. It provided anti-trafficking training to UK nationals deployed abroad for international peacekeeping missions in 2008.