The trafficking of vulnerable children into Scotland has risen threefold since 2011, according to new figures.
More than half of the 105 children who were found to have been trafficked in the past five years were Vietnamese, brought in to work on cannabis farms and in the sex industry.
Seven of the children have since disappeared from care, thought to have been taken by their traffickers.
One service provider said the figures were “just the tip of the iceberg”.
Under the 1989 Children Act, it is a council’s legal liability to care for under-1 8s who arrive in their local authority area from abroad, placing them into foster care or “semi-independent living” situations with funding from the Home Office.
The Scottish Guardianship Service( SGS ), funded by the Scottish government, then helps them to navigate the complex asylum, trafficking, and welfare processes.
The bulk of unaccompanied children are in the care of English counties such as Kent which encapsulates the port of Dover and the London borough of Hillingdon where Heathrow Airport is situated.
But there has still been a year-on-year increased number of numbers in Scotland.
Nine children were trafficked in 2011. This rose to 32 in 2015, and 20 new cases have already been reported to the SGS this year.
Many children who arrive in Scotland alone have come actively seeking asylum from situations of conflict and persecution in their home countries.
However, the latest figures from the SGS reveal that 40% of the 262 unaccompanied children it has registered since 2011 were brought to Scotland by traffickers.
Sang was just 10 years old when he was taken in by a Vietnamese gang.
His mothers had recently succumbed and he had no other style to fend for himself.
Forced to beg and glisten shoes on streets by the gang, he was also regularly beaten by its members.
Then one day, some years later, Sang was ordered to get into the back of a truck.
“I was told I had to get into, otherwise they’d beat me to demise, ” he recalls.
The following months were a blur for Sang as he was transported like kine in the back of lorries – often without food or water – between halfway houses in countries including Russia and France.
But at the least he wasn’t alone – he remembers there being many other Vietnamese and African children being held there.
When Sang’s long journey ultimately ended in Glasgow, he was locked in a secluded house.
“One of “the mens” showed me his gun to threaten me – he said if I tried to escape from the house he would kill me.”
Only when the police ultimately raided the house a few months later did he know he was in Scotland.
Sang is now get subsistence from Migrant Help.
A quarter of those trafficked over the five-year period were forced to work in the illegal farming of cannabis, another one-quarter in the sexuality industry.
Many become domestic slaves behind closed doors. Others turned up on the high streets, being used as force-out labor in establishments such as nail bars.
A freedom of information request also revealed that a one-quarter of the unaccompanied children in Glasgow City Council’s care since 2011 were under 16 years of age.
A Scottish government spokesman said: “Those who take part in the trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable people bring sadnes and long-term harm to their victims.
“New legislation came into force this year that constructs it more straightforward for our law enforcement agencies to take action.
“However, we are aware legislation alone won’t stop trafficking which is why we are working with others including Police Scotland and the Crown Office to raise awareness of these appalling crimes, and to identify perpetrators and disrupt their activity.”
Catriona MacSween, a service manager at SGS, doubts that their figures on child trafficking provide an accurate picture of the situation.
She said: “[ These figures] are genuinely just the tip of the iceberg because we only find the kids that are lucky enough to escape or be rescued from their situation.
“There’s probably a lot of children that we still don’t know about, that are still being exploited.
“Quite often the children we work with have been sexually exploited, and then moved on to work in a nail bar, moved on to work on a cannabis farm – so there’s a lot of movement there.”
But for the young Vietnamese in Scotland, their nightmare does not always end when they escape.
Seven children – all of them Vietnamese – have disappeared from council care since 2011, including 15-year-old Thanh Van Bui, and are dreaded to be back with the gangs that trafficked them.
A 2008 Scottish government report noted that some traffickers insisted small children apply for asylum to give them a legitimate right of temporary leave to remain in the UK – essentially treating council accommodation as holding pen for trafficking victims.
Ms MacSween said the main reason for these disappearances was that the children were “debt-bonded to the trafficker so they still owe them money”.
She added: “They’re maybe still getting threatened by the trafficker to pay that debt, maybe threatening their family back home.
“The trafficker may tell them they’re going to get deported if they come across the authorities in this country, that nobody’s going to help them , nobody’s going to believe them.”
But Ms MacSween said another contributory factor was that many councils absence suitable accommodation in which to place unaccompanied children.
She said they were often placed in bed and breakfast – to enhance the chances of them absconding, and also leaving them open to being re-taken by traffickers.
Read more: www.bbc.co.uk
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