Over the last five years in Northern Ireland there were 142 victims of trafficking identified in Northern Ireland, a figure that is widely recognised as the tip of the iceberg. Individuals trafficked into and within Northern Ireland have been subject to sexual exploitation, forced labour and domestic servitude. UK-wide, the Home Office says there were an estimated 10,000-13,000 victims of trafficking living within the United Kingdom in 2013, the latest year for which figures are available.[i]
During the 2011-2016 Assembly term Lord Morrow MLA responded to this distressing reality by bringing forward his Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill to the Northern Ireland Assembly. After a three year process, the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill finally became law and was granted Royal Assent on the 13 January 2015. As a result, Northern Ireland now provides the greatest protection for victims of trafficking in the UK.
CARE in Northern Ireland worked very closely with Lord Morrow as he took this leading piece of legislation through the Assembly. One of its primary objectives was to strengthen support systems for victims of trafficking. The Act does this by establishing the minimum level of assistance to be provided to adult victims. It allows this care to be tailored to each individual’s needs, requiring the Department of Justice to support victims of trafficking for a minimum of 45 days after they are identified and giving the Department discretion to provide support for as long as necessary.
The Act also seeks to ensure that individuals who engage in human trafficking are caught and effectively punished for the crimes they have committed. The Act introduced a minimum sentence for individuals convicted of human trafficking offences and sought to help prosecutors to be able to make their case against perpetrators of trafficking.
In addition, the statute ensures greater protection of vulnerable children and young people who have been victims of trafficking by requiring the appointment of a specialist guardian to safeguard the child’s best interests and help them navigate complex care and immigration systems. Northern Ireland was the first jurisdiction in the UK to make this crucial provision.
In order to address the demand for paid sex, which is the single biggest driver of trafficking to Northern Ireland, the Act also makes it a criminal offence to purchase sex. More information can be found here. (link to Prostitution briefing)
While the passing of this legislation should be celebrated, it is just the beginning in tackling trafficking in Northern Ireland. It is important that the Act is implemented effectively and that support systems are robust and efficient in securing assistance and care for victims from the moment they come to the attention of the authorities. Furthermore, greater lengths must be taken to raise awareness and improve prevention of trafficking in the province and beyond.
Questions for Candidates
- Will you seek to hold the Department of Justice, the Department of Health and PSNI to account for how they are performing in terms of rescuing victims of human trafficking in Northern Ireland and prosecuting perpetrators of these crimes?
- Will you commit to working with employers and businesses in this constituency to raise awareness of and prevent exploitation in supply chains at home and overseas?
- Will you support the work of the independent anti-slavery commissioner in engaging with public authorities to improve our response to trafficking?