Child exploitation – summary findings

Child exploitation – summary findings
01 May 2023


  • This document provides a high-level summary of the emerging findings from the child exploitation literature scan.
  • The summary will inform practice guidance about child exploitation and more broadly contribute to understanding of modern day slavery.


A literature search was conducted to identify published materials relevant to the following areas:

  1. Safeguarding and protection of children from exploitation
  2. Assessment and identification of exploitation of children
  3. Social work approaches to addressing child exploitation for the child
  4. Real-world examples of addressing child exploitation

Databases searched

  • The following databases were included in the search for published literature:
    • CINAHL
    • PsycINFO
    • PubMed
    • ScienceDirect
    • Scopus
    • Google Scholar
    • Media sources
    • NGO/advocacy websites

Search returns and screening

  • The initial search returned 1,134 documents for possible inclusion.
  • After an initial screen based on titles and abstracts, 240 documents remained for possible inclusion.
  • In order to reduce the number of final documents included in the literature scan, the following exclusion criteria were applied (although exceptions were made where documents were particularly relevant to the research areas):
    • Documents published prior to 2010
    • Documents focused on other contexts e.g., primary health care settings, justice settings
    • Documents focused on specifics of therapeutic/mental health interventions
    • Documents focused on the health and wellbeing impacts, or prevalence, of exploitation
    • Documents related to the history of child exploitation and related legislation
    • This resulted in a final 62 documents informing the current literature scan.

Extended review

  • After presenting the findings of the initial review to relevant Oranga Tamariki staff, the scope of the review was extended to include a more targeted search on the following topics, including materials without a specific social
    work lens:
    • What child labour exploitation looks like in practice (to inform screening)
    • The nature of child labour exploitation among migrants, international students, and refugees
    • Whether child labour exploitation has different characteristics to adult labour exploitation
    • The role of the church or religious organisations in prevention/intervention of child exploitation
    • Risk of child exploitation by adoption/familial relationships involved
    • The search for literature relevant to these additional areas was conducted using a non-systematic search of relevant terms in Google Scholar.
    • As a result of this non-systematic search, an additional 35 documents were identified and reviewed. Themes extracted from these additional documents were synthesised and are presented in the Extended review section of the current literature scan.

Key Results

The scan identifies several factors which make children and young people more at risk of exploitation including:

  • homelessness and runaways
  • undocumented or unaccompanied migrants
  • adverse childhood experiences
  • mental health or substance abuse issues, and
  • potential prior involvement with child welfare agencies. 

We also identified several groups who are more at risk of child sexual exploitation. These include:

  • young people of colour; including indigenous populations
  • those identifying as LGBTQ+
  • those with learning disabilities or who are neurodiverse.

From a victim centered perspective, we can see that multi-disciplinary interventions are most effective, including medical care, substance use treatment, mental health support and assistance with housing and general medical care.

There are no validated screening tools in use internationally to identify child labour exploitation. However, there are a number of tools available in cases of suspected sexual exploitation. Any of these tools would need validation and amendment for the New Zealand context before being used.

Page last modified: 15 Sep 2023