Victims of trafficking must be central
Her Majesty's Government has published its draft Modern Slavery Bill. But, in spite of its aspirational title, the Bill promises more than it delivers.
It focuses on increasing penalties for those convicted of human trafficking, but does nothing to address the needs of the survivors of this terrible crime.
It is important to deter would-be traffickers by sending a strong signal that our law will come down hard on people who abuse other human beings.
Like the Modern Slavery Bill, my Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill contains measures to introduce strong penalties for convicted traffickers, but crucially, survivors are at its centre.
My bill creates a legal obligation to provide survivors with support until three months after the conclusion of criminal proceedings against their traffickers.
The bill will ensure that this assistance is guaranteed and that survivors are supported for longer. My bill will also ensure that every child thought to be a victim of trafficking will have a child trafficking guardian to support them during their time in care.
Children are particularly vulnerable. Many don't speak English; they have little understanding of how our systems of care, immigration and criminal justice work; and they have experienced terrible trauma and abuse.
Trafficked children have gone missing from care. A child trafficking guardian to speak up for the child should help prevent this. And yet the Westminster Bill provides no new special protections for children.
I commend the Home Secretary for her determination to fight trafficking through the Modern Slavery Bill. I will be studying it carefully to see if there are elements which would make useful additions to my bill.
Well-supported survivors make better witnesses, resulting in more convictions. Protecting victims is not an optional extra to a law on trafficking; it is central.
Through my bill, Northern Ireland can lead the way and demonstrate what a comprehensive law addressing human trafficking should look like.