We must stop vile human trafficking trade
Human trafficking is the vilest of crimes. It reduces people to commodities and is rightly described as modern-day slavery.
Men, women and children across the world may become victims and could face years of sexual exploitation, forced labour, or domestic servitude.
It is a global phenomenon – and Northern Ireland has not escaped its clutches.
The National Referral Mechanism (NRM) is the UK's framework for identifying victims of human trafficking and ensuring they have access to support.
Since its establishment in 2009, the number of potential victims of trafficking referred to it from Northern Ireland has risen to 104.
While the numbers in Northern Ireland are lower than in neighbouring jurisdictions, it is unacceptable that any individual should be trafficked.
I believe that eradicating it requires partnership – at local, national and international levels.
Significant progress is being made: potential victims are supported while their cases are being considered; new offences have been created so that prosecutors have robust powers to pursue traffickers through the courts.
Recently, I have taken part in a series of events to raise awareness, including a cross-border forum with the Irish minister for justice and equality, Alan Shatter, and a special meeting of the inter-departmental ministerial group (IDMG) on human trafficking, chaired by the prime minister at Number 10 Downing Street.
With the ministers for education and for employment and learning, I have also been visiting schools and further education colleges across Northern Ireland to encourage young people to become active citizens in the fight against trafficking.
Human trafficking is a serious issue with serious consequences. Driving it from our shores will require individuals across society to stand together against it, by recognising the signs of trafficking and by reporting suspicions to the police, or Crimestoppers.
I urge people to join the fight against trafficking, because together we are stronger.
More information on signs of trafficking can be found at www.blueblindfold.co.uk.
David Ford MLA is Justice Minister