Kent Police is urging the public to look out for signs of modern day slavery, particularly involving children.
It is estimated that around a quarter of reported victims of domestic servitude in the UK are children, and there have been seven cases investigated or under investigation by the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate and partners.
Recently these have included raids at three residential properties and four car washes in Canterbury and Aylesford last December that uncovered 21 victims and eight arrests during an operation in Medway in March 2016.
Kent Police is highlighting the issue to mark Anti-Slavery Day 2017 today (18 October).
Domestic servitude is one form of modern slavery which involves a victim being forced to work in private households, usually performing domestic chores and childcare duties.
In many cases, the victim’s freedom is restricted and they work long hours for little or no pay, often sleeping on the floor where they work.
Children as young as 11-years-old, especially girls, are given to traffickers or directly to families living in the UK, by desperate parents who believe it will provide a stepping stone to a better life where they will receive a good education and better opportunities.
Although many of the victims are allowed to attend school, they are otherwise on-call 24 hours a day looking after younger children, getting them up and ready for school, feeding them, looking after them, and doing all the family’s housework.
They tend to be badly treated, regularly beaten and in some cases sexually abused.
Officers are also seeing a number of cases where British-born children are being groomed to sell and deliver drugs, are sexually abused or commit other crimes.
Officers from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate and partners are working with schools in Kent to educate teachers and safeguarding staff about warning signs that may indicate that a child is being used in domestic servitude.
Signs could include children who talk about having to do excessive chores and those that are not allowed to meet other youngsters outside of school.
Detective Chief Inspector David Coleman from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate said: “Most people will find it shocking that there are children here in Kent in 2017 being exploited and treated as slaves within households.
“We work with law enforcement agencies in other countries to identify potential victims and trafficking by organised crime groups.
“We would also urge people in Kent to look out for signs of modern day slavery, especially if they think a child is being forced to work in these conditions.”
Officers from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate are also working to tackle a whole range of modern slavery issues including sexual exploitation, forced labour and other forms of criminal exploitation.
If you are concerned a child is being exploited or have any information about modern day slavery happening in Kent call 101.
The national Modern Slavery Helpline on 08000 121 700 can also take reports from people with suspicions or concerns about individuals, premises or locations.