The protection of child victims of trafficking should be a priority for MPs in relation to the Modern Slavery Bill, ECPAT UK has said.
The Bill, announced earlier this year by the Home Secretary Theresa May, provides an opportunity for the UK Government to signal its commitment to tackling human trafficking and, in particular, its commitment to protecting children who are particularly vulnerable to this abuse.
Draft anti-slavery legislation proposing to bring in tougher sentences for human traffickers is set to be published today (16 December), the Home Office has said.
It aims to increase the maximum custodial sentence for offenders from 14 years to life. The Bill would also create a new post of anti-slavery commissioner to hold law enforcement and other organisations to account.
ECPAT UK has briefed MPs on the key priorities for addressing child trafficking that would put victim protection at the heart of the Bill. These include:
• Creation of a specific offence of child trafficking/exploitation – this would reflect the difference in the definition of child trafficking from that of adults and signal recognition of the gravity of the crime against children
• Introduction of a system of legal guardianship for child victims – a guardian should have the responsibility to act in the best interest of the child in decisions made to ensure his/her safety and to ensure they receive the support they are entitled to and require in order to recover from their abuse
• Improvements to the National Referral Mechanism – this official system of identification of victims of trafficking has been shown to be hugely flawed and must be massively overhauled in order to ensure victims are quickly identified and provided with appropriate support
• Establishment of an Anti-Trafficking/Slavery Commissioner – a Commissioner that is independent of Government would improve the collection of data on trafficking and oversee the UK’s response to trafficking in all of its forms, making recommendations and assessing the effectiveness of existing strategies
Indications are that the Bill is likely to be focused on tackling the criminal element of trafficking.
While this is a welcome move and a vital part of improving the UK’s response against this human rights abuse, says ECPAT UK, the NGO is concerned that there is a lack of recognition of the essential need to legislate to protect victims of trafficking and forced labour.
“Without the safety, protection and assistance of victims, convictions under human trafficking legislation will remain worryingly low, and the UK will appear to be ‘soft touch’ on trafficking, despite the Government’s best intentions,” said Chloe Setter, Head of Advocacy, Policy and Campaigns.
“Too many child victims of trafficking slip through the net and are exposed to further risk, even after they are discovered by authorities. The Bill must recognise the particular vulnerability of child victims, legislate to keep them safe and give them the required support needed to rebuild their lives after often years of unspeakable abuse and trauma.”
ECPAT UK is a leading children’s rights charity working on the issues of child exploitation and child trafficking. It is active in campaigning and lobbying Government, producing research, training frontline professionals and working with young victims of trafficking.
* Read ECPAT UK's 5 December 2013 briefing to MPs on the Modern Slavery Bill (*.PDF Adobe Acrobat document): http://www.ecpat.org.uk/sites/default/files/house_of_commons_backbench_d...
* More on ECPAT International: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ECPAT