Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 23 April 2014

An opportunity to lead the way in tackling trafficking

There is more to the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill than criminalising men paying for sex, says Lord Morrow

Northern Ireland is faced with the opportunity to stride ahead of the rest of the UK in its support for victims of trafficking, or to simply turn its back on our strong abolitionist heritage and do the bare minimum.

If we choose to look the other way, then the situation will only worsen with gross violations of the victims' human rights.

After a declaration by the Government in 2010 that we would not opt into the EU Anti-Trafficking Directive (in the mistaken belief that we were already fully compliant), charities spoke up and revealed the extent to which this was not the case. The Government U-turned and announced it would opt-in in 2011.

The beginning of 2012 saw amendments made in the Lords to a Westminster Bill in an attempt to bring compliance with the Directive.

However, I was shocked to discover that, although making two very important changes, these amendments fell well short of the changes mandated. I arranged for the drafting of a Northern Ireland Bill that would go beyond this and enable Northern Ireland to become fully compliant with the Directive.

It was in April, with the launch of the Department of Justice's consultation on achieving compliance with the Directive, that I discovered the department was proposing to do no more than simply mimic the minimalist approach of England and Wales.

I am under no illusion that what a EU Directive mandates and what a state has to do in order to be technically compliant with it are not necessarily the same thing.

However, I recognise the bold agenda outlined in the Directive and the stark choice we are now faced with - either opting for the bare minimum, or taking the historic opportunity to build on our abolitionist legacy.

I have chosen to launch my Bill to capitalise on this opportunity to put in place really robust provisions that will enable us to lead the way in tackling trafficking.

My Bill makes provision of the appointment of legal advocates for each child-victim to support them through the daunting criminal, immigration and compensation procedures they will face.

It stipulates the provision of safe accommodation, legal services, compensation and other essential assistance and support for all victims.

It recognises forced begging as a form of exploitation, as well as defining a victim of trafficking in law.

Police and prosecutors will be provided with training and effective investigative tools in order to bring greater numbers of human traffickers to justice.

The ground-breaking nature of these provisions should not be over-shadowed by a disproportionate focus on one clause of the Bill, which deals with the demand that fuels trafficking.

I have been concerned that Press coverage of my 16-clause Bill has, to date, focused almost entirely on Clause 4, which proposes criminalising paying for sex.

I have inserted this clause for two reasons. First, the principal driver for trafficking to Northern Ireland is, by a significant margin, demand for sexual services. If we can erode this demand, trafficking to Northern Ireland would reduce.

Second, in Sweden, where they have a much simpler law than our own, which criminalises the purchase of sex in the round, this has given rise to a nearly 50% reduction in men paying for sex that has inevitably impacted trafficking to Sweden. Indeed, the police have intercepted calls between traffickers saying, "Don't bother sending women to Sweden. There's no point."

The success of their approach is now such that it has been copied by other countries, including Norway and Iceland, and it is currently being considered by Dublin.

Clause 4 is not a 'magic bullet', but it has an important contribution to make in the context of the other clauses in the Bill.

I very much hope that people across Northern Ireland will read my consultation and see what the Bill actually proposes and respond accordingly.

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