Scotland 'failing' trafficked children
At least 80 children have been trafficked into Scotland in the past 18 months without anyone being convicted, a new report has claimed.
Scotland's commissioner for children and young people (SCCYP) said the issue of child trafficking was a "national scandal".
The study marks the first attempt to quantify the scale of child trafficking in Scotland.
UK Border Agency figures show 14 child trafficking referrals between 2009-10.
However, SCCYP, working with the University of the Highlands and Islands at Perth's centre for rural childhood, said the actual number of referrals was only the tip of the iceberg.
Their report - titled, Scotland: A safe place for child traffickers - said that even in the few cases where children had been correctly identified as victims of trafficking, a poor response combined with a lack of successful prosecutions made Scotland a welcome place for traffickers to operate.
The study also revealed that community awareness about child trafficking in Scotland was low. Researchers said the situation could be leading to a "significant number" of cases remaining unidentified.
Tam Baillie, Scotland's commissioner for children and young people, said: "When children are raped or exploited as slaves in households or businesses in Scotland it becomes our national scandal.
"When we fail to notice, fail to pick up the signs and fail to act on children's trauma, it demands action.
"I hope this report, the first of its kind in Scotland, will take the issue out into the open and result in action and change for child victims of trafficking."
Professor Rebecca Wallace, director, for the centre for rural childhood, added: "The report's findings address the previous lack of an evidence base regarding child trafficking in Scotland and as such provide a platform from which to move forward."
The commissioner has called for a number of recommendations to be implemented to reduce instances of trafficking.
Among them is a call for the Scottish government to work more closely with the police and local authorities to ensure investigations into child trafficking were properly resourced.
A government spokesman said ministers had recently published new national child protection guidance, which contained a dedicated section on child trafficking, placing the issue firmly within child protection practices.
He added: "This guidance makes clear that it is essential to take timely and decisive action where child trafficking is suspected.
"The police take child trafficking accusations extremely seriously and regularly share intelligence with their international counterparts and relevant UK government departments - helping to detect and disrupt such criminal networks.
"No civilised society should tolerate child trafficking and ultimately law enforcement agencies can only help eradicate it if they are provided with information and evidence so we would therefore encourage anyone who suspects it might be taking place to inform the police immediately.
"Any case of child trafficking would be one too many and the Scottish government encourages all those with a role in eradicating this horrific human trade to act on the recommendations in this report."