Human trafficking, in all its forms, represents a grave abuse of human rights. Whether carried out for the purpose of sexual exploitation, forced labour, or domestic servitude, it is a cruel and horrifying subversion of the basic human rights to which all people are entitled.
The Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill, as proposed by Lord Morrow, could, if passed into law, usefully place support for victims of human trafficking on a statutory basis and amalgamate some existing legislation into one single Act.
However, Amnesty International believes that Clause 6 of this Bill, which seeks to criminalise the purchase of sexual services, unhelpfully conflates two very complex social phenomena – prostitution and human trafficking – and could potentially prove counterproductive.
It is claimed that this clause will help protect sex workers, by shifting the criminal liability away from them as the seller of sexual services on to the purchaser.
In reality, though, it fails to do this and provides no exploration of, or guarantees against, the potential unintended consequences of such a move.
It is clear that many others, including the police, share our concerns on the risk of potential negative effects.
In effect, Clause 6 would introduce a hierarchy of criminal liability among those engaged in the selling of sexual services, many of whom may be vulnerable, with some remaining at risk of prosecution and others not.
In opposing Clause 6, Amnesty is urging the Northern Ireland Assembly to undertake deeper and wider reflection on this important human rights issue than is possible in considering a single clause in an anti-trafficking Bill.
We recommend that our political parties remove Clause 6 from the Bill and that planned research into sex work by the Department of Justice is used to inform future policy, which should establish the degree to which legislation – together with educational, social, cultural and other measures – could serve to reduce the demand that fuels trafficking, including for the purpose of sexual exploitation.
*Grainne Teggart is Northern Ireland campaigner at Amnesty International