PLATFORM: NI should lead way in tackling human trafficking - Lord Morrow

SEVENTY-FIVE trafficked people are reported to have been rescued by the PSNI since 2009/10 and the figure has increased year on year.

This figure, for the number of rescued victims, of course, does not reflect the actual number of victims of trafficking in Northern Ireland which is bound to be significantly greater.

People tend to be trafficked for sex, domestic servitude or forced labour. Trafficking for sexual exploitation, however, is the single biggest reason for trafficking to Northern Ireland. Most rescued victims of trafficking are women who have been trafficked for sexual exploitation purposes. In the last year 27 victims have been identified, 18 of whom were trafficked for sexual exploitation.

The EU Anti-Trafficking Directive requires us to improve our anti-trafficking legislation by April 2013. The Department of Justice’s new Criminal Justice Bill contains, among other things, two clauses relating to trafficking in a bid to comply with the EU Directive.

Although these are welcome changes, I am keenly aware that the Directive mandates so much more; for example, the protection of witnesses, a functional system of compensation, victim support services, special care for the victims of child trafficking etc. It is both because of my growing concern for the victims of trafficking in Northern Ireland and my concern about the shortfall in the Department of Justice’s proposals that I have proposed my Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Further, Provisions and Support for Victims) Bill.

I recognise that what a Directive mandates and what one actually has to do to avoid getting into trouble with the EU for poor implementation are not always the same thing. As a Province with a long abolitionist tradition going back to the likes of Thomas McCabe, rather than doing the bare minimum, Northern Ireland should actually make the most of the opportunity presented by the Directive to implement all the provisions mandated by it. That is what my Bill does. Indeed, mindful of the particular challenges we face in Northern Ireland; it actually goes slightly beyond what is directly mandated by the Directive with respect to its provision criminalising paying for sex. This approach has been very successful in Sweden from where phone conversations have been intercepted between traffickers to the effect, ‘Don’t bother sending women to Sweden. Their legal environment is so opposed to the purchasing of sex that there is no point.’

I recently launched a consultation on my Bill to give people the opportunity to respond to its proposals for Northern Ireland. We should lead the way in the UK by providing the very best legal framework to combat trafficking. I would love to hear your thoughts. The closing deadline is Anti-Slavery Day, October 18.

l Lord Morrow is DUP MLA for Fermanagh and South Tyrone