Hundreds of child victims of trafficking gangs have left their care homes in the United Kingdom and probably went back to the criminals who had  taken them there after being treated harshly by authorities, charities say.

It is believed that some of the children in care were trafficked from developing Asian countries like Vietnam.

Missing People and Every Child Protected Against Trafficking (ECPAT)  said in a report that 246 of the 1,015 children who were either identified as or were suspected of being child trafficking victims had been reported missing from their care homes at least once in 2017, Thomson Reuters Foundation reported. In 2015, 167 children had gone missing.

In all, 975 trafficked or unaccompanied children were reported as missing from care facilities last year, and a fifth have not yet been found.

On average, a child was reported missing seven times. The charities said  the reasons were poor standards of accommodation, fear of the local authorities and the continuing control exerted by trafficking groups.

“Trafficked and unaccompanied children continue to be failed by the system which should be safeguarding and protecting them,” said Jane Hunter, senior research manager at Missing People. “(These children) are particularly vulnerable, and may go back into a highly exploitative situation to those they were trafficked by.”

The report said trafficked children often were afraid of the authorities and would rather go back to their trafficker. One child was quoted as saying that “it is ‘better the devil you know’.”

Catherine Baker, ECPAT’s senior research officer, said trafficking victims are often punished for crimes they were forced to commit in captivity, such as drug-related offences on cannabis farms where many young Vietnamese are found. They are refused asylum and deported.

“Too often these children are treated as criminals or immigration offenders, rather than vulnerable children requiring support,” she said.

In 2015-17 the UK rejected asylum requests for 183 children, including many Asians, who had been trafficked from developing countries. This was double the number in the previous three years.

The government is reviewing a 2015 law targeting trafficking after criticism that it is not being fully utilized to imprison the gangs responsible, force companies to stop forced labor, or help victims.