Child Exploitation – What are the issues, what are we doing about it, and how can you help?

  • Date: 13 March 2023
  • In: UK

March 18th 2023 is National Child Exploitation Awareness Day, through which the National Working Group on Child Exploitation (NWG) aims to highlight the issues of child exploitation – to help everyone to understand what child exploitation is, how to spot it, and what to do if they become aware of a child being exploited.

By working together, we want to join the NWG in encouraging everyone to thinkspot and speak out against abuse and adopt a zero tolerance to adults developing inappropriate relationships with children, or children exploiting and abusing their peers.


What is child exploitation?


Child exploitation is a form of abuse that occurs when children or young people below the age of 18 are forced, manipulated or coerced into doing something in return for a “reward” offered by an abuser. Children are targeted by abusers who gain their trust – a behaviour known as grooming.

The abuser then takes advantage of the power imbalance to persuade or intimidate children or young people into situations that are harmful to them, and to the abuser’s advantage. For example, this may take the form of manipulating children into engaging in sexual activity or criminal activities such as drug trafficking (“county lines”). Once children are ensconced into these situations, they often feel trapped and that they have no choice but to continue. Perpetrators may use shame and guilt to control their victims. Some children who are exploited may feel they are making their own decisions, and that the abusers are “on their side”, but by definition all children are vulnerable and a child cannot consent to their own exploitation. Many abusers are skilled at spotting particularly vulnerable children and often target those who are excluded from school, affected by poverty, or who live in care.

Everyone has a role to play in tackling child exploitation – parents, schools and the wider community can all help, as well as government policy makers, child protection professionals and the police. Say Something If You See Something is an ongoing national campaign that focuses on how a range of trades, businesses and places in the community can be misused by criminals and perpetrators, to exploit and traffick children and promotes resources to help businesses and communities to be aware of and recognise the signs of child exploitation.

Railway Children programme workers will be at railway stations across England in the week leading up to National Child Exploitation Awareness Day 2023 to raise awareness of the issues around child exploitation and vulnerable children at railway stations. On Monday we’ll be in Sheffield and Liverpool; on Wednesday we’ll be in York; and on Friday we’ll be in Leeds, Hull and Preston.


Boy sat on the floor of an alleyway in front of a graffiti wall


What is Railway Children doing to tackle child exploitation?


Children can be exploited anywhere and are at risk in public places, including those that are regulated by local councils, police and other agencies. While public transport hubs can provide safety, shelter and opportunity, they also make the ideal hunting ground for predators, gangs and criminals seeking to exploit and abuse vulnerable children.

We work with the transport sector to identify and protect children early in their journey and before they come to serious harm. We train staff who work at and around railway stations to spot vulnerable children and young people, and we work closely with the British Transport Police (BTP) which enables them to refer children and young people at risk of abuse and exploitation to us.

We work in partnership with communities and the transport industry, helping them to create environments that are hostile to abuse and where people are equipped to play their part in protecting all vulnerable children.

We believe that children are exploited because of their vulnerabilities and that exploitation is frequently a symptom of other experiences that children can go through, such as trauma or difficulties at home or school. Railway Children’s approach is unique in that we focus on dealing with the underlying causes that can make children even more vulnerable to exploitation. We believe that early intervention is vital for children and young people at risk. We work with every vulnerable child and young person referred to us by BTP to understand exactly what individual support they need. We partner with various other agencies able to provide different services so that each child can get the best support for their situation.

If we can reach a vulnerable child or young person before an abuser can, we have a better chance of preventing abuse and exploitation. 

We stand for children their childhoods and their futures. 

We give young people who have lost hope and direction, the belief, guidance and practical life skills to build a positive future and change their story for good.

Our At Risk Right Here, Right Now Campaign provides important information about how to spot vulnerable children at UK railway stations. Take a look and learn how you can identify a vulnerable child next time you’re at a station, and what you can do to help them.

As part of our Charter for Children, we believe that no child at risk should ever be ignored or passed by. Keeping children safe is our collective responsibility as a society, and only be working together can we hope to end the abuse and exploitation of children and young people once and for all.

Find out more about how to spot the signs of exploitation here.