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What is Child Exploitation?

Extra-familial harm is defined as risks to the welfare of children that arise within the community or peer group, including sexual and criminal exploitation. A key element of extra-familial harm is that in general, harm does not arise from the home environment; parents may not be aware that their child is at risk or may be struggling to protect their child and the family from harm against exploiters.

However, sometimes parental neglect and lack of supervision may contribute to the young person’s exposure to extra-familial harm. Children who experience difficulties or instability at home may be more likely to spend more time outside of home and hence be more vulnerable to extra-familial harm.

Extra-familial harm can take the form of:

  • Child sexual exploitation.
  • Child criminal exploitation including drug dealing both locally and through county lines.
  • Modern slavery and trafficking.
  • Gang activity and youth violence.
  • Radicalisation.

Child exploitation is based on a power imbalance in the relationship between the child and their exploiter from which the exploiter is able to control the movement and behaviour of the child and enable them to be used for the exploiters personal or financial gain.

Exploiters may “groom” victims first in order to gain influence over them and thus enable their exploitation. Once they have the child’s trust the method of control moves to manipulation, duress, force or fear, making exit from the exploitation very difficult. The key element is that the child is not able to give valid consent to their exploitation and will not be acting as a free agent.

General indicators that a child is a victim of exploitation are that:

  • Their movements appear to be controlled by others through fear or manipulation.
  • They seem afraid of their exploiters or in most cases are unaware that they are being exploited.
  • They do not trust those in authority and are wary of sharing information.
  • They may be required to earn a certain sum of money to repay a debt.
  • They may be required to recruit other children.

Child exploitation is a form of modern slavery, and the Modern Slavery Act 2015 makes it a criminal offence to hold a person in slavery or servitude or to require them to carry out forced or compulsory labour.

Where children go missing from home, placement or school, this provides exploiters with opportunities to groom them for exploitation. Equally, going missing can be an indicator that a child is already being exploited.