Cases of modern slavery have been uncovered in diverse sectors and locations of the United Kingdom—from Vietnamese children locked into Manchester flats to grow cannabis to Albanian women and girls sexually exploited in the London sex industry, and to the hundreds of men working low or semi-skilled jobs trapped in situations of debt bondage. The National Crime Agency estimates 3,309 potential victims of human trafficking came into contact with the State or an NGO in 2014. The latest government statistics derived from the UK National Referral Mechanism in 2014 reveal 2,340 potential victims of trafficking from 96 countries of origin, of whom 61 percent were female and 29 percent were children.
Hung’s experience demonstrates various difficulties of being both a child survivor of slavery and an immigrant without legal status, especially those who do not speak the language of the destination country. In Hung’s case, his age could not be verified by authorities, and therefore he was not treated as a minor. Despite eventually being released from prison, he still has a criminal record.
When I was 16, my parents borrowed £5000 to pay agents to find me work. I journeyed by plane, bus and lorry. It took three months to get to the UK. In France, with other Vietnamese boys, I was sealed in a crate which was placed inside a lorry. When we were met in England, I was told I must work off my debt. I was taken to a house to be a gardener in a cannabis farm. We were locked in, forced to work long hours. There were toxic chemicals. We slept and ate in the ‘farm’, the windows were sealed. When I asked for my money, I was threatened. Six months later the police raided the house. I didn’t speak English, I didn’t know what was happening. I didn’t know who to trust. No one believed I was 16, and I had no ID. I was taken to court and sentenced to 18 months in prison. After a year, the full facts emerged. I was released. ECPAT [Every Child Protected Against Trafficking] UK have helped me. I still have a criminal record. I don’t want to go home.
As told to the Human Trafficking Foundation