Experts warned Monday that large numbers of child slaves may be working on cannabis farms in London.
Since 2016, authorities have found 314 illegal cannabis farms in London, according to police data. The most alarming figures, however, come via human trafficking experts, who warn that the number of children used as slave labor on these farms is likely in the thousands.
"Experts say children are being trafficked from Vietnam and other countries to work in these farms, which are often located in residential properties, and that the scale of the problem has been vastly underestimated," Reuters reports.
The Australian human rights group, Walk Free, claims that Britain is home to 136,000 slaves. Last year, more than 2,000 child trafficking victims were reportedly referred to British authorities, the highest number on record, the group says.
"The high number of cannabis farms across London and trafficking of Vietnamese children to work in them is extremely worrying," said Jakub Sobik, a spokesman for Anti-Slavery International. "Potentially thousands of children and young people are being trafficked from Vietnam and exploited by ruthless criminal gangs."
In February, the British government came under fire for refusing asylum to an orphan from Vietnam who was trafficked to work in the cannabis industry.
"It is vital that these children are seen by police as victims first and foremost and given proper support, as too often they are treated as criminals instead," Catherine Baker, a police officer at the anti-child trafficking organization ECPAT UK, told Reuters. "These vulnerable children are exploited in extremely dangerous conditions, with little or no pay and may be physically and psychologically abused by their traffickers."
In 2015, Britain passed the Modern Slavery Act to fight human trafficking and put traffickers in jail for life, however; some have questioned if the law has had any effect on the trafficking industry.