'Human trafficking bill would give us the strongest legislation in UK to tackle this terrible crime'
Human trafficking is not an issue that made the headlines in Northern Ireland often. The crime was not high up the political agenda, despite it affecting hundreds of people and being the cause of great suffering.
This has however changed since my colleague, Lord Morrow, introduced a Private Members Bill in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
The Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill would mean Northern Ireland would have the most robust legislation of anywhere in the UK and would give additional support to those who have been victims of this terrible crime.
On Friday morning, to mark the 7th EU Anti-Trafficking Day, I was pleased to be able to co-host with the 'No More Traffik' breakfast in Lisburn, so that people could hear from Lord Morrow about the bill and what it could achieve.
The breakfast not only helped to raise awareness about the extent to which trafficking is happening in Northern Ireland, but the proceeds will also go to human trafficking charities who do so much good work to help those who have been affected.
So why is this bill necessary? Northern Ireland has an obligation under the European Directive on human trafficking to put in place measures to deal with it. However, we should not be doing the bare minimum just so that we can avoid infringement. It is a good directive and we should be leading the way in the UK on this issue.
This bill will make our Human Trafficking laws effective by ensuring that those who traffic people will be punished with a mandatory prison sentence for a minimum of two years.
It also attempts to make Northern Ireland unattractive for would be traffickers, by making paying for sex illegal. 73% of victims rescued from trafficking in Northern Ireland last year were sexually exploited.
A similar law in Sweden resulted in a huge drop in human trafficking and Sweden has evidence from wire-tapping and surveillance that traffickers consider Sweden a bad market. We want Northern Ireland to be equally unattractive.
In addition to this the bill also gives much needed support to victims, from more rights in regards to compensation, providing trafficking guardians for children who have been victims and providing support up to and after criminal investigations.
This is an important piece of legislation. It may not be a bill that will affect each of us every day, but if it can help prevent people from being trafficked or give support to those who have been victims then it is worth of our support.
We should stand resolutely against those who would seek to buy and sell people like commodities and I would ask that people to contact their MLA and urge them to give their support to this bill.
Belfast Telegraph Digital