More than 150 Vietnamese children have disappeared from care since 2015, but the true figure is likely to be higher

Scores of Vietnamese children rescued from traffickers and placed in council care have gone missing and are feared to have fallen back into the hands of slave masters, The Times can reveal.

Crime gangs are re-trafficking victims and local authorities are failing in their duty to safeguard children, figures obtained through freedom of information requests suggest.

More than 150 Vietnamese minors have disappeared from care and foster homes since 2015, with almost 90 others going missing temporarily. Most go missing within two days of entering care. At least 21 have vanished this summer, including 12 from Rochdale. That council’s child protection record is already under scrutiny after the child grooming scandal and the public inquiry into the Cyril Smith case.

Young trafficking victims of other nationalities have suffered a similar plight, with growing concern about the number of missing Albanian children.

Baroness Butler-Sloss, chairwoman of the all-party parliamentary group on human trafficking and modern slavery, described the figures as “very disturbing” but said that she believed there were far more at risk.

The former president of the family division of the High Court added: “The Home Office should explore the possibility of identifying that Vietnamese children present a particular, special problem and are most likely to leave immediately or quickly after coming to care. Some special arrangement should be made for them.”

Kevin Hyland, the independent anti-slavery commissioner, has expressed concern at the “frequency and speed” with which Vietnamese minors go missing. He said that the case of a teenager taken from care twice showed “a lack of professionalism in the response to the plight of trafficking victims”.

Official figures show that 8,670 children were recorded missing at least once while in local authority care in 2016. The majority of incidents were shortlived — from a few hours to two days.

Freedom of information requests to 430 local authorities reveal that 152 Vietnamese children have permanently disappeared from 2015 to date, with 88 others going missing temporarily. The secretive nature of trafficking, the poor quality of official records and the fact that 79 authorities did not respond suggest the true scale is much higher.

There is a recognised issue of young Vietnamese claiming to be minors so they can avoid immigration detention and be placed instead in local council care, from which it is easier to abscond.

Vietnamese children or their families pay traffickers £10,000-£33,000 to reach Britain, which can bind them into forced labour for years. The victims, most of whom are male, are brought to Britain by land. They are given mobiles or told to memorise phone numbers so that they can contact their traffickers, who then force them to work in cannabis farms, nail bars and brothels.

James Simmonds-Read, of the Children’s Society, said that victims did not feel secure after being rescued. “We are not creating a culture where they feel safe, so children freak out and go missing and back to the people that trafficked and abused them,” he said.
Helen Johnson, head of children’s services at the Refugee Council, said that almost every Vietnamese child smuggled into the UK was in debt bondage and while “local authorities should be alert to that, some are not”. “If children are treated with hostility, they’ll believe what traffickers tell them: that they won’t be helped or believed and that they are in debt.”

The Home Office is aware of the issue and is developing an independent advocate system to help councils to address the needs of young trafficking victims. “We have strengthened regulations on children’s homes and placed a duty on local authorities to tell us about all incidences of children going missing from care, even those lasting less than 24 hours,” a spokesman said.
Rochdale council said that there was “no similarity” between the street grooming scandal and the issues surrounding missing Vietnamese children.