UK statistics have revealed that child trafficking referrals in Britain increased 30 percent last year, the highest figure on record.
According to the latest figures from the UK government’s National Crime Agency, the number of children referred to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), which identifies victims of human trafficking, increased to 1,278 in 2016, a record high.
The report also said the majority of the kidnapped children were drawn into exploitative labor, sexual abuse and forced criminality.
Trafficking covers children moved within Britain, as well as moved to the country from overseas.
The UK was the most prominent country of origin for trafficked children, with a total of 255 reported cases in 2016, followed by Albania, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Eritrea.
Nations affected by war were also highly affected, including Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Pakistan and Eritrea, indicating that children fleeing conflicts and instability are also vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking.
Meanwhile, human rights agencies have warned that the real number of child victims is much higher than what the British government has released.
“These statistics show that the amount of identified child victims has risen significantly, but this is far short of the government’s own estimates of number of victims,” said Chloe Setter, the head of ECPAT UK, a leading children’s rights organization campaigning against child trafficking.
"This means that there are thousands of children who have not actually been identified and who are likely still in situations of horrific exploitation,” she was quoted by the Independent.
“The National Referral Mechanism in its current form is an ineffective tool that fails to accurately identify the true number of trafficked children in the UK and fails to provide meaningful support to those affected.”
Over the past five years, over 9,000 unaccompanied minors have sought safety in Britain as asylum seekers travelling without a parent or guardian.
A study conducted last year by Europol, the EU’s criminal intelligence agency, found that 10,000 child refugees had gone missing across Europe since arriving in the continent.