MORE needs to be done to tackle a ‘shocking’ rise in reports of child slavery in Bolton, the town’s shadow children’s services boss has said.

The number of young people suspected of being exploited as child slaves in the town has skyrocketed by 300 per cent in the last 12 months.

A total of 16 child victims were referred for support under the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) by Bolton Council in 2019, compared with four in 2018. In 2017, that figure was two.

The worrying statistics follow the national trend, after a total of 1,971 children were referred under the NRM — around 15 times more than in 2014.

Bolton Council’s executive cabinet member for children’s services, councillor Anne Galloway, told The Bolton News that the authority is ‘acutely aware of the issue’ and ‘is actively working with all relevant partner agencies to raise awareness of the subject and what to look out for’.

However, her Labour opposite number has called for the issue to be discussed in detail by the scrutiny committee to better confront exploitation.

Shadow executive member for children’s services, Councillor Martin Donaghy said: “I am shocked and significantly concerned at this quite substantial increase in child slavery in Bolton and nationally.

“Council staff have been overwhelmed during the Covid-19 crisis but by and large staff in Bolton have done extremely well and I commend them for that.

“Going forward, I, as opposition spokesman, will be asking the executive members to bring a full report as soon as possible to the children’s services scrutiny committee where the matter can be debated and looked at.

“Then we can put a plan together as to how we will tackle these increasing numbers in Bolton.”

Cllr Galloway said: “Any increase in the incidence of modern slavery involving children is deeply alarming.

“We are working to help prevent further exploitation taking place and to identify and offer support to victims whilst making sure action is taken against the people responsible. 

“Although the Covid crisis and consequent lockdown has placed huge pressures on councils, child protection remains a key priority for Bolton.”

Fears have also been voiced by the Local Government Association (LGA) that children could be further exploited as the coronavirus measures are eased and businesses reopen across the UK. 

Referrals of adults and children from all agencies dropped in the first quarter of 2020 as restrictions were imposed in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
However, some businesses will have taken a financial hit, meaning they may lack funds to pay staff wages or could take advantage of people made vulnerable by the crisis. 

Moreover, the LGA added that some victims may be harder to identify because closures will have taken them away from the public eye.

Councillor Nesil Caliskan, chairwoman of the LGA’s safer and stronger communities board, said:“Modern slavery is happening in local communities everywhere, with high street services such as car washes and nail bars being high risk sectors for exploitation.

“The public should look out for telltale signs, including people who may be dressed inappropriately for the work they are doing, or who appear frightened or withdrawn at work.”

The number of child referrals increased by 71 per cent between 2018 and 2019, when children accounted for 91 per cent of all council referrals.

Suspected adult victims of modern slavery have also risen since 2014, but less rapidly. Adult referrals by English councils increased more than five-fold from 28 in 2014 to 190 in 2019, up 81 per cent from the previous year.

A Bolton Council spokesman said: “We are aware of the increase in incidents of modern slavery involving children. 

“Locally we are working alongside partner agencies including Greater Manchester Police, health, education and voluntary agencies to maintain awareness of modern slavery and the range of other forms of exploitation that children are subject to.

“Close working relationships are maintained in intervening and taking protective action to prevent further abuse, but also in offering support to victims, as well as direct action against the perpetrators.

“Best efforts are made to promote community safety and look to reduce opportunities for exploitation occurring.”