Tuesday, 17 November 2009
Dáil Eireann Debate
Deputy Denis Naughten: Over the past 18 months, newspapers have carried headlines such as “Girl (12) taken into care in trafficking investigation”, “Chinese restaurant owner linked to 34 missing children”, “Nigerian girl trafficked for sex trade goes missing from HSE”, “Lithuanian ‘trafficker’ agrees to extradition” and “Leaders of trafficking gang face 15 years in jail on exploitation charges”.
Human trafficking is the third most lucrative illicit business in the world after arms and drug trafficking. Trafficking is a hidden crime. Its victims cannot or dare not make themselves known to the authorities for fear of retaliation or because they are illegal immigrants. A common feature of many victims of trafficking is that their home countries are poor and there are few opportunities for employment. The groups most vulnerable to this crime are those of low status, without powerful protectors — typically women and children, especially orphans or those subject to domestic violence — in addition to impoverished men and those in debt bondage.
Many of the trafficked adults are deceived about the type of work they will be doing and may be charged exorbitant fees by agencies for arranging work. When they arrive, they are tricked or intimidated into surrendering their travel documents and either forced into prostitution or subjected to forced labour.
The types of legitimate work that women think they are being recruited to do include jobs in the restaurant trade, domestic work, child-minding or accountancy. They may also be promised education or training opportunities. Some women know they may have to work as prostitutes for a while, but they have no idea of the violence and degradation to which they will be subjected. Many children or their families think they are opting for a better life with better education and employment opportunities, sometimes within a private foster family.
Many of the victims are held in what is an invisible prison. They are in a foreign country with no language skills and are vulnerable as a result. The same mechanisms of domestic violence have been used down through the generations in this country and elsewhere. Such victims are often raped in order to test them out initially. In some cases they are offered to the trafficker’s friends to cultivate them in the trade of prostitution.
In its 2009 “Trafficking in Persons Report”, the US State Department kept Ireland in the second of three performance tiers, based on an assessment of its record in prosecuting offenders, protecting victims and preventing abuses. That report stated: “the Government of Ireland does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking .... Although Ireland made significant strides, there was no evidence that trafficking offenders were prosecuted or convicted during the reporting period, and concerns remained about victim identification and protection.”
The report came 12 months after the enactment of the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008. Ireland’s approach to tackling sex trafficking has been piecemeal to date. During the summer, I welcomed the publication of the Government’s anti-human trafficking plan, which I hope will tackle the proliferation of sex trafficking into Ireland’s €180-million illegal sex industry. Ireland must enforce its legislation and put support services in place for victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation as a matter of urgency.
Fine Gael is calling on the Government to put a comprehensive strategy in place to deal with the proliferation of trafficking here and through Ireland into the UK and other parts of Europe. Four specific aspects need to be dealt with if we are to address this question successfully: prosecutions; accommodation; legislation in place concerning the prostitution industry; and child trafficking.
The Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008 is significant legislation. It provides for the first time that a trafficked victim is not guilty of any offence and also that the purchaser of sex can be, in certain circumstances, guilty of an offence. However, the major problem with the legislation’s enforcement is in the identification of a person as a victim of trafficking. While I welcome the publication of the anti-human trafficking plan, which hopefully will tackle the proliferation of such activity, there are no clear policies or guidelines to identify a woman as being trafficked or what happens to women who have been identified as being sex-trafficked. To date, Ireland has not yet convicted anyone of trafficking.
It is difficult to investigate, prosecute and convict perpetrators of all types of organised crime, but even more so for a hidden crime like human trafficking with its confused and scared victims. However, we are starting to see some progress on enforcing the legislation. Some 16 months after the enactment of the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act, there have been 73 investigations into potential trafficking, as identified by the Garda Síochána. Of those, at least 14 are minors and 11 of the 73 have been granted a period of recovery and reflection. Some 90% of the 73 cases of potential victims of human trafficking are being investigated on the basis of sexual exploitation, according to information provided by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. A number of files have gone to the DPP who must decide whether to prosecute. One case currently before the courts involves the trafficking of a child for sexual exploitation.
The Garda National Immigration Bureau’s anti-trafficking unit relies on information provided through non-governmental organisations, the public or coming across a brothel in the day-to-day investigations of An Garda Síochána. The unit should be more proactive in identifying suspicious activity and confronting it head-on.
Human trafficking needs to be viewed through the prism of organised crime. Detective Inspector Jonas Trolle of the Stockholm police said that trafficking and prostitution are always connected with organised crime. Germany and Holland, which have legalised prostitution, are legitimising the income of these organised crime groups. It is imperative that the organised crime section of An Garda Síochána is mandated to deal with human trafficking as well as the victims of this crime.
In May this year, the 21st report of the Independent Monitoring Commission stated that Continuity IRA members continue to be involved in a large range of serious criminal activity, including brothel keeping. The issue is clearly linked to organised crime. Subversive elements that have sought to undermine the State in the past have now become involved in this area.
They feel there is money to be made in the industry. It is important that the organised crime unit of the Garda focus on the industry and on the issue of trafficking. It is also important that clear protocols on the policing of brothels be put in place and that gardaí be trained to be aware of the vulnerability of victims and to realise some may be undocumented. We spoke at length in recent debates on undocumented victims coming to the attention of the Garda. Victims are severely traumatised in many cases. The 60-day period is too short for them to recover sufficiently to make an informed decision about co-operating with An Garda Síochána.
Fundamental to the protection of victims is the provision of safe and secure accommodation. It is interesting to read in a report issued last December that one in five women discovered in suspected brothels leaves the country. It is imperative that these women, some of whom are the victims of trafficking, remain here to assist the Garda in the collation of evidence that can be given in court to secure convictions against the traffickers. Thus, traffickers can be put behind bars once and for all. In this context, it is imperative that we do not view trafficking as an immigration crime coupled with the facilitation of smuggling people into the country. The latter is a different issue.
The victims of trafficking may not necessarily be from outside the European Union. There were a number of incidents in the past in which victims who approached the non-governmental organisations turned out to be citizens of the European Union. They require the same level of protection from traffickers as victims from outside the Union. It is imperative that we do not view them purely as illegal immigrants. If we do, we are further exploiting them. We should not guarantee them permanent residency in this country. Doing so would seriously compromise the ability to have successful prosecutions but we need to put in place a sensible and practical period for recovery and reflection. Such a period would help victims recover from their terrible ordeal and give them an opportunity to reflect on what they should do next. Fundamental to this is the provision of safe accommodation.
I disagree fundamentally with the Minister’s anti-trafficking plan in respect of accommodation. Provision is made in the anti-trafficking plan for the Reception and Integration Agency to cater for the victims of trafficking. It is wrong to place the victims with this agency. Asylum centres are revolving doors for victims of trafficking. There are numerous documented cases of children placed in the care of the HSE who have disappeared from the asylum accommodation in which they were placed. Even the Minister’s report and the evidence he has given to the House suggest that 70% of the potential victims of trafficking identified by the Garda have been either children in HSE care or asylum seekers. It is clear the asylum system is regarded as a soft touch for the trafficking of people into Ireland. We cannot allow victims identified in brothels or labour exploitation to be returned to the same centres from which they were trafficked in the first instance. This is their great fear. Unless we provide accommodation such as that provided under the Sonas housing initiative, whose staff have the skills set to cater for the victims of trafficking, we will not secure the number and types of convictions we desire.
It is interesting to note that figures published recently by the Galway Rape Crisis Centre indicate one in five victims who report rape and abuse are asylum seekers. There is substantial anecdotal evidence to show the rape of women in asylum centres is being used as a mechanism to groom them for the prostitution industry. It is fundamental that we send out a clear message that our asylum process is not a soft touch for human traffickers and that we address, once and for all, the issue of the placing of the victims of trafficking back into asylum centres. We must provide proper and adequate accommodation for victims.
The Sonas Housing Association is well capable of dealing with the needs of victims. It is prepared to provide the assistance and accommodation that is needed. If we are to send out a clear message that Ireland is no longer a soft touch regarding human trafficking, we must put women into secure accommodation such that they will be prepared subsequently to assist the Garda and give evidence in court to secure convictions.
It is important that the brief of the anti-trafficking unit in the Department be extended to included migrant women in prostitution. The report of the Immigrant Council of Ireland, Globalisation, Sex Trafficking and Prostitution, published in April 2009, indicates a minimum of 102 women and girls have been clearly identified as sex trafficked into the country in 2007 and 2008. Eleven of them were children. The only way the Government can fill the data gap so it can ascertain the full extent of the problem in Ireland is to have the anti-trafficking plan allow for the extension of the unit to include migrant women in prostitution. This could provide a source of very valuable information allowing the Government to learn exactly what is taking place. The Minister’s evidence that 90% of potential victims are in the industry in the first place should be one of our focal points.
The anti-human trafficking plan contains no reference to funding for educational advertising and promotion campaigns on trafficking aimed at migrant communities. While funding has been provided in the past, we need serious and significant ring-fenced funding targeted specifically to bring the dangers of trafficking to the attention of migrant communities and others. We must tackle this issue head-on and explain that those who avail of the services of trafficked prostitutes are sponsoring organised crime and the trafficking of more women into this country.
The Immigrant Council of Ireland produced very important research stating 970 of the 1,000 women involved in the indoor sex industry in Ireland are migrant women. Our immigration legislation is being undermined by traffickers exploiting loopholes in the legislation and policing practices to bring women here for the sex industry.
There is currently a clampdown on prostitution in Norway and Sweden. The authorities have criminalised the buying of sex. As a consequence, the industry has moved out of those countries into some of the other Nordic countries. Last week, the UK House of Commons passed a Bill that will target the demand end of the industry. The legislation will make it an offence to pay for sex from a person who is subjected by a third party to force, threat or any other form of coercion. The offence is a strict liability offence. In other words, it will not be a defence to say one did not know the prostitute was being forced to engage in prostitution. This, in reality, will mean the industry will move from Britain and Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland. The Scottish Parliament intends to introduce legislation next year similar to that of both Sweden and Norway in that it will criminalise the person who purchases sex.
If that were to happen, it would put further pressure on the industry across the water and push it more into this jurisdiction. Given the current ease of access into this country, we could easily become the new red light district of Europe. It is urgent that we deal with prostitution in this country and review the existing legislation because this issue is coming down the tracks at us very quickly.
The Garda states that the sex industry and trafficking rings are not a big issue in this country. It is quoted in the media as saying that it could easily close down the prostitution industry, literally overnight, because it is based on mobile telephones, which are the lifeblood of that industry. It could close the business by removing the telephone numbers from the systems. If it is that easy to close down the industry, why has it not happened to date? Why is the Garda saying the issue is not a problem in this country? A total of 1,000 women a week are involved in the indoor sex industry in this country. The majority of them are migrant women, most of whom have been trafficked into this country. I urge the Minister to urgently review the existing provisions on prostitution laws and to bring forward proposals that will clamp down on the potential exploitation and abuse of our jurisdiction.
Deputy Paul Connaughton: I congratulate my colleague, Deputy Naughten, on bringing this issue to the floor of the Dáil. A few weeks ago, I had an opportunity to read the Immigrant Council of Ireland’s report, Globalisation, Sex Trafficking and Prostitution — The Experiences of Migrant Women in Ireland. Reading that prompted me to speak in the debate tonight. I pay tribute to the council on its work. It is easy for people to sweep an issue such as this under the carpet, as if it never existed. It is only because of debates such as this in the Dáil, which I hope will receive the full glare of publicity, that such issues come to attention.
I believe the situation is worse than is generally accepted. Prostitution is a real cancer in society. From a trafficking point of view, animals are treated better in terms of dignity. Against that background, anything that can be done should be done by ordinary people through the Government, Members of the House and the various agencies of State such as the Health Service Executive and the Garda Síochána. We need to do the best we can to clean up this dreadful mess.
The report by the Immigrant Council of Ireland reveals that, in the lucrative Irish sex industry, large numbers of migrant women are being sexually exploited in indoor prostitution. The report demonstrates the severe trauma and harm caused to women by trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. The 102 women who were identified as having been trafficked into this country were aware of a further 64 women who were trafficked, giving a possible total of 166 women trafficked in a short period. They are the ones who are documented. I expect the actual figure is much higher. According to that research, 11% of the 102 women were children at the time they were trafficked. One is getting to the bottom of the barrel when children are involved. There is no reason to believe many more children are not involved. The work of the various agencies involved in this area should get the respect it deserves. Every Member should take the report extremely seriously.
I understand that the vast majority of women trafficked into this country are from African countries. Women reported being transported by aeroplane, train, bus, car, boat and ferry. Many were transported by other means of transport. Some came through the United Kingdom via Belfast and were then transported to other parts of this country. With an open shoreline like ours, it is not difficult for traffickers to ply their terrible trade.
When trafficked women reach Ireland, they are sometimes passed on to Irish brothel owners who prostitute them. Other women are held and prostituted by original traffickers. In either case, documentation is usually taken from the women. In most cases the woman is then not only illegal in this country, but is without any documents. When one is from an African country, speaks very little English, with no documentation and nowhere to turn, one is in a bad place. As a nation, we should hope that the human dignity of such women will be protected. I congratulate Deputy Naughten on what he is trying to do.
Deputy Simon Coveney: The following is an account from a young trafficked woman who was lucky enough to be rescued by the Garda and to get treatment from a non-governmental organisation in this country. It is an appropriate setting of the scene for a debate which I thank Deputy Naughten for introducing in the House.
There is a danger when one passes legislation and puts a trafficking plan in place for one to think the job is done, but it is not. The problem of human trafficking in this country remains a growing one. Credit is due to the Government for the legislative response that came into effect in June 2008 and also for the trafficking plan that was published this summer. There is an onus on us to assess the performance of the legislation since its introduction, how it has been implemented, who is implementing it and, most importantly, whether we are finding and protecting the victims of human trafficking in this country.
Tough prosecution is secondary in that regard. We must find, target and prosecute those responsible for facilitating and organising the trafficking of people. Approximately four years ago it began to dawn on policymakers in this country that human trafficking was a real and growing issue. At the time this country was booming. We were a land of opportunity, but we were also a new target for organised crime to deliver a product, primarily young girls, into a growing sex industry. Prosperity brought problems and we did not deal with them initially. We are trying to do so now. The sex and prostitution industry in this country has changed dramatically in the past ten years. It has gone from the streets where primarily young and middle-aged Irish women worked to being conducted behind closed doors. Currently, 97% of the women involved are non-Irish nationals. Some of them do not even speak our language.
Two “Primetime” programmes and one “Panorama” programme identified the problem as a growing issue in this country. In the case of the BBC programme, Ireland was identified as a transit country, the easiest way to take young girls into the sex industry in Great Britain. I was in the European Parliament at the time the programme was aired and I tried to focus on the responses needed to address the issue. I was involved in the Stop the Traffik campaign that was launched in 2006.
It is worth reminding people of the extent of the problem the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform faces. This is a very large global criminal industry. The facts are startling. Approximately 2.5 million people are in forced labour at any one time around the world as a result of trafficking. Just under 300,000 people are in forced labour in the industrialised world as a result of trafficking — about 11% of that 2.5 million. People are trafficked from approximately 127 different countries and approximately 137 countries are exploiting the victims. Ireland is one of those. The majority of people are between the ages of 18 and 24 and in Ireland’s case the majority are young women.
What is most startling is the profits generated through this criminal industry. The estimated global annual profits made from the exploitation of trafficked forced labour is €31.6 billion each year. That is a figure given by the International Labour Office in Geneva in 2005; I expect the figure has greatly increased since then. It is €15.5 billion in industrialised countries. That is almost half the total figure. This is a very large business which involves sophisticated, well organised, ruthless and well-financed criminal gangs targeting countries for a reason and the response we develop must take that into account. It is not surprising, therefore, that a small, open country like Ireland has been targeted. This motion acknowledges that over 100 women and girls have been clearly identified as being trafficked between 2007 and 2008, but anyone who knows anything about this issue knows that is only the tip of the iceberg.
In terms of whether we are doing enough, this motion proposes four actions that develop what the Minister has already done in Government: improve the effect of the legislation; improve the policy to date; protect young women; and target traffickers. I sincerely hope the Minister accepts this motion.
The first issue I want to discuss, and Deputy Naughten raised it, is the need to move the focus away from the Garda National Immigration Bureau to the Garda organised crime unit. We must break the connection between illegal immigration and trafficking into Ireland. One involves primarily people coming to Ireland to work and develop a better life here, and they are breaking the rules in doing it in some cases. The other is a criminal act whereby the smuggling arrangements are organised to exploit and abuse a victim.
The problem, if the two are not separated, is that they get lumped into the one and in terms of gardaí who are trained to identify on a daily basis people coming to Ireland illegally with fraudulent papers, passports or whatever, that type of training does not equip them to identify likely trafficked victims and treat them appropriately as victims of abuse and exploitation. Essentially, that is the problem with the current system.
Since the legislation was enacted last summer, we have had examples of women being arrested, handcuffed, treated with suspicion and put in jail cells as a result of a court judgment while the assessment procedure was ongoing as to whether the person should be categorised as a trafficked victim. That is not acceptable. We must recognise that the implementation of the law is not as it should be. We should not treat people as criminals and put the onus on them to prove that they are trafficked victims. It should be the other way around. We must be big enough to accept that gardaí alone are not the appropriate decision makers in terms of interpreting whether someone is a likely victim of trafficking.
Various expert groups in Ireland have proven themselves through experience and working with trafficked victims and victims of the sex industry. They know what they are looking for, and the criteria is clear in terms of United Nations protocols in this area. They should be involved in the determination process at an early stage with the gardaí to try to separate victims as early as possible to ensure that we can help them, rather than trying to establish whether someone is a victim of trafficking in the intimidating atmosphere of a Garda station or a jail cell. In many cases, those women will not trust police services or the gardaí because of past experience in their home countries. The method of determining who needs assistance when an illegal immigrant comes to the attention of the Garda Síochána is wrong.
I understand what the Minister was trying to achieve in the new trafficking law when he made assistance conditional on co-operating with the gardaí to try to help them secure convictions, but that is not taking a human rights approach. If somebody is a victim of rape, physical abuse or exploitation in a kitchen, the first priority must be to help that person understand how he or she got into that position and build faith and trust between the social and health services that we can provide to them here and the victims themselves. The first priority should not be securing a conviction of the person who brought them here. That should be secondary, but it is not in the current legislation. Nor is it in the current approach, and that is wrong. We should recognise that and change it.
Regarding the recovery and reflection period, I agree with Deputy Naughten. We must extend that, and be seen to extend it. People are not asking for permanent residency in Ireland. The groups campaigning for immigrant rights and the rights of victims of trafficking are not asking for that. They are asking for a longer period to ensure that the proper assessment can be done and the proper health care provided, whether that be emotional, physical or whatever the case may be.
We must separate the accommodation of asylum seekers or refugees from where we accommodate victims. The image we must have in our minds is that of a young Irish girl who has been found in a brothel, in an extreme case maybe handcuffed to a bed, who has been earning money for a pimp or a brothel owner. If we cannot find her parents, do we send that young Irish girl to a migrant centre or to an asylum seeking accommodation unit? If she is a Nigerian, Malaysian or Brazilian girl, or a street girl from Calcutta, she should have the same rights as an Irish girl, or an Irish young woman, in this country if she is found to be a victim of abuse and exploitation. That is the way we should see it.
The only way we will make a serious impact on this industry is to target demand. That is the reason I want the Minister to take seriously our final proposal that we will re-examine prostitution laws and laws around the sex industry in Ireland. I have no qualms about saying that people who use prostitution in Ireland should be criminalised. It is the only way to target and kill demand. It will never be entirely eradicated but if we are serious about helping people who find themselves in prostitution, whether they be trafficked here or in prostitution because of drug addition or a series of other complicated reasons, we must target the people who use them, pay for them and consider that normal living. If we are serious about helping those people, we must target those who use them and pay for them, those who consider that to be normal living.
Until we target our prostitution laws in the same way that has been successfully done in Scandinavian countries and in the same way that is being considered in Britain, we will not make an impact on this industry. The first priority should not be prosecutions, but the protection of victims. We will find that if we protect victims properly, the prosecutions will flow from that because we will build proper trust between the State agencies and the victims we have an obligation to help.
I thank the proposers of the motion, which gives us a good opportunity to discuss an important issue. It also gives us an opportunity to take stock of our position in the aftermath of legislation that was passed by this House only 17 months ago. Reading the motion put forward by Fine Gael Deputies, there seems to be a lack of awareness regarding the measures which have been taken by the Government in the past 17 months, and before that when preparing the legislation.
The Government has taken a very firm stand against trafficking in human beings by putting in place a wide range of legislative and administrative measures in terms of prevention, protection and prosecution. The position that is being put forward is that the State is doing little to tackle this most serious of human rights abuses or that the measures being taken are not the correct ones. I can state emphatically that this is simply not the case.
A dedicated anti-human trafficking unit was established in my Department in February 2008, prior to the enactment and commencement in June 2008 of the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008 which provides for penalties of up to life imprisonment. The unit works closely with more than 50 governmental, non-governmental, international and other organisations nationally and internationally to co-ordinate a comprehensive, holistic and “whole of Government” response to the issue of human trafficking. A key element in assisting the unit in fulfilling its role is the work being done in the range of interdisciplinary consultative fora which are in place since mid 2008. These fora include State agencies, non-governmental and international organisations which make recommendations to a high level interdepartmental group, which reports to me.
In addition to a round-table group — I attended one of these round-table meetings last year to hear the issues first hand — there are five working groups made up of expert representatives from the state agencies, NGOs and international organisations which meet regularly to identify and address issues at a real and practical level. The groups deal with awareness raising and training, development of a national referral mechanism, child trafficking, sexual exploitation and labour exploitation.
I would like to give an idea of the extent of engagement that has taken place since the anti-human trafficking unit was established in February 2008 in an efforts to address this issue. In 2008 it had more than 150 meetings with relevant stakeholders,16 of which were with the groups to which I have just referred. To date in 2009 it has had about 110 meetings with relevant stakeholders, of which 19 have been with the groups to which I referred earlier.
On 10 June of this year, I published the National Action Plan to Prevent and Combat Trafficking of Human Beings in Ireland 2009-2012, which was prepared under the auspices of a high level interdepartmental group. This plan sets out in detail the measures which have been already undertaken across Departments and agencies to address the issue. It also identifies areas which require further action.
The plan is based on what is known as the three Ps in the area of trafficking: prevention, protection and prosecution. While I do not intend to list every measure being taken to address this issue, I will outline some of the more significant measures. In addition to those to which I have already referred, they include the establishment of a dedicated unit earlier this year in the Garda National Immigration Bureau and an awareness raising campaign aimed at the public and personnel likely to encounter victims of trafficking and training for law enforcement and other front-line personnel likely to encounter victims of trafficking. To date, 1,124 members of the Garda Síochána have received training in human trafficking and awareness-raising of this phenomenon, with a further 250 gardaí having received training on tackling trafficking in human beings, prevention and protection, including training in the investigation of this type of crime. Since last year more than 130 people from different Departments and agencies have participated in awareness training. There also has been provision of accommodation, health care and material assistance for potential and suspected victims by the Reception and Integration Agency and the HSE in the case of adults and by the HSE in the case of children. There also has been the provision of legal advice and assistance to potential and suspected victims of trafficking by the Legal Aid Board from the time of their first contact with GNIB all the way through to the end of the process for them.
As I have already stated I do not wish to elaborate on every initiative or development that has been undertaken but I would like to take this opportunity to refute any suggestion that the State is not doing enough to assist victims. In addition to the substantial grants made by my Department and the HSE to non-governmental organisations to support their work with potential victims of trafficking and women in prostitution, potential victims of trafficking can access a range of State services directly. Contrary to what is sometimes alleged, access to services is not contingent upon a person co-operating with the authorities; the opposite is the case.
Once a potential victim comes to the attention of the competent authority — which for cases of human trafficking is the Garda National Immigration Bureau — they are offered access to a range of services. These include accommodation, health services, both medical and psychological, through a care plan based on their individual needs, and legal services provided by the Legal Aid Board. All of this happens immediately the GNIB becomes aware of a potential victim and before a person has been identified by the gardaí as a suspected victim of trafficking and granted a 60 day recovery and reflection period. As Deputies are aware, the period was increased from 45 days to 60 days during debate on Committee Stage of the original Bill. We are the higher end of the scale internationally with a 60 day recovery and reflection period.
The Reception and Integration Agency accommodates potential victims and suspected victims of human trafficking referred by the Garda National Immigration Bureau both prior to and during the 60 day recovery and reflection period. Both non-EEA and EEA nationals are accommodated by RIA. A referral by GNIB is a sufficient basis for the RIA to accommodate the person.
The Government is anxious that potential and suspected victims of trafficking are offered suitable accommodation and I am satisfied that the standard of accommodation in the RIA system is suitable for suspected victims of trafficking in the same way as it is suitable for asylum seekers. RIA already has a package of supports in place for asylum seekers and is sufficiently experienced and flexible to meet the needs of potential and suspected victims of human trafficking. When necessary, appropriate translation and interpretation arrangements are available to RIA, the HSE and GNIB to assist communication with a potential victim. RIA reception centres also include a medical centre on-site managed by the Health Service Executive. The HSE develops an individual care plan for each potential or suspected victim of human trafficking.
There have been a number of concerns expressed from some quarters about the suitability of RIA accommodation. Alternative models, it is claimed, offer greater anonymity, support and privacy. However, the alternatives too may give rise to concerns, for example, that they might result in the isolation of victims. One of the strengths of the RIA system is that RIA has experience in accommodating many people from diverse nationalities, races and backgrounds, each with differing needs and experiences. I have consulted with both the Reception and Integration Agency and the Garda National Immigration Bureau who refer potential and suspected victims of trafficking to RIA and, to date, neither is aware of any substantial difficulties with this accommodation.
Furthermore, it should be noted that accommodation providers in RIA centres are required, under contract, to ensure that accommodation centres comply and operate in accordance with all statutory requirements of local authorities and State agencies in relation to bedroom capacity, food, food-hygiene, water supply, fire safety and general safety. All RIA centres are inspected unannounced at least once on an annual basis by independent inspectors and they are also subject to twice yearly examinations by RIA staff. Any diminution in standards which comes to the attention of RIA is immediately followed up and proprietors are instructed to make any changes and improvements deemed necessary. We will, of course, continue to work through the various consultative fora to which I referred earlier to develop and enhance services for victims in line with available resources.
I would also like to take the opportunity to address allegations made in certain fora on traffickers recruiting persons from RIA reception centres. It has been claimed that suspected victims of trafficking who are housed in RIA centres are being groomed and are open to being put back into the hands of the traffickers. I understand from the Garda Síochána that it has investigated an incident where specific rather than general allegations of this nature were made. It has informed me that following investigations there was no evidence to substantiate these allegations. Furthermore, no statements of complaint have been forthcoming from the complainant or any other parties. In the few situations where potential victims have expressed fears, whether well founded or not, they have been relocated to alternative RIA centres. I urge anyone who has any such information or evidence to bring it to the attention of the Garda Síochána for investigation as a matter of urgency. A crime prevention officer from the Garda Síochána also liaises with potential or suspected victims to assess any security risk and advise them on appropriate precautions.
In addition to the available health care services, there is an established link between RIA and the community welfare service — through the asylum seekers’ new communities’ unit of the HSE — which will assist potential and suspected victims in accessing necessary supports, particularly where suspected victims are moving out of RIA accommodation following the 60-day recovery and reflection period.
The Legal Aid Board provides legal advice and legal aid to potential and suspected victims in accordance with the terms of the Council of Europe Convention and the UN Protocol. Other protection includes the provisions in the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008 which provides for a guarantee of anonymity of alleged victims of trafficking unless the judge fully or partially waives this in the interests of justice. Under section 12 of the Act an alleged victim of trafficking, with the leave of the court, will be permitted to give evidence through a live television link, from either within the State or abroad.
I do not accept any suggestion that identified victims of human trafficking are primarily dealt with as illegal immigrants rather than victims. This is simply not the case. It is the State’s policy not to remove any person from the country who may potentially be a victim of trafficking. While the deployment of personnel and the assignment of areas of responsibility is a matter for the Garda Commissioner, I take issue with any suggestion that gardaí in the national immigration bureau are unsuited to carrying out their mandate to protect victims of human trafficking because they also enforce Ireland’s immigration laws. The Garda Síochána has a well deserved reputation for dealing with victims of all kinds of serious violence and trauma with sensitivity and understanding. The suggestion that members of the GNIB would act differently because a person is a victim of human trafficking or is an irregular migrant is unwarranted and shows a lack of appreciation of the work done on the ground.
On the trafficking in persons report, this contains many inaccuracies and does not take full account of the numerous measures that are in place, many of them being developed in consultation with the stakeholders, at the moment.
Deputy Dermot Ahern: I will. The report states that Ireland provided limited protection and assistance to trafficking victims during 2008. This is not correct. It goes on to say that Irish officials referred trafficking victims to NGOs providing food and shelter or to immigrant detention centres. Ireland does not have immigrant detention centres. In another location, the report states that the Government provided temporary legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims during the reflection period. Again, this is incorrect. There are no circumstances in which an alleged victim would be removed from the State while a claim of trafficking is being investigated. We very much take issue with the statement in the report that one of the leading anti-trafficking NGOs in Ireland publicly expressed concerns to the effect that the Government does not recognise all sides of trafficking. This is a very serious allegation, implying official negligence and very bad faith. I totally reject it on behalf of all those who work very hard on a daily basis in the Garda, my Department and in other State agencies as well as in other NGOs in this respect. The report states another inaccuracy to the effect that the 2008 law criminalising human trafficking provides for extra-territorial jurisdiction over Irish residents who engage in child sex traffic tourism abroad. Again, that is not correct. Ireland has had legislation in that respect for more than ten years, the Sexual Offences (Jurisdiction) Act 1996. Again, I suggest, as with the case in the 2008 report by the US, that they need to get their facts right in these issues.
Measures have been put in place in dealing with the status of victims of human trafficking in the State as set out in the national action plan. In particular, administrative arrangements have been put in place, reflecting the provisions to be replicated in section 127 of the forthcoming Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill, which deal with the immigration protections to be afforded to suspected victims of human trafficking. The arrangements provide for a 60-day period of recovery and reflection in the State. In circumstances where the suspected victim wishes to assist with any investigation or prosecution arising, he or she may be granted one or more six-month renewable periods of temporary residence in the State. These protections allow a victim of human trafficking to acquire a formal status in the State where required. It should be noted that the 60-day recovery and reflection period is double that of the 30-day minimum set out in the Council of Europe Convention to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings and compares well with other EU member states.
I now turn to the laws regarding prostitution and activities associated with prostitution. In terms of current prostitution legislation, Ireland already has a range of laws in place to address this issue. Under the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993 it is an offence for a person to solicit another person in a street or public place for the purpose of prostitution. The offence can be committed by the customer, male or female, the prostitute, male or female, or a third party acting for them. The related crimes of living on the earnings of a prostitute, the organisation of prostitution, procuring a woman or girl for prostitution, advertising brothels, the services of prostitutes and causing and encouraging the prostitution of a child are also criminalised under various items of legislation.
My Department is currently preparing legislation that will make it an offence to have sex with a child under 18 years in exchange for money or some other consideration or by abuse of a position of trust, authority or influence over that child. It should be noted that section 5 of the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008 made it an offence to solicit or importune a person known to have been trafficked in any place, public or private, for the purpose of prostitution. In such circumstances, a person who accepts or agrees to accept a payment, right, interest or other benefit from another person also commits an offence.
On legal advice, a defence was included for a defendant to prove that he or she did not know and had no reasonable grounds to believe that the person in respect of whom the offence was committed was trafficked. I will keep the laws on prostitution under review and monitor the position in other countries. If there is reason to believe that I need to change the law I will bring forward proposals in the usual way. The public debate now emerging on whether the so called Swedish model would have the effect of reducing demand for prostitution will prove useful in that respect.
I am fully aware of the UK proposal in a policing and crime Bill and which provides for punishing those who pay for sexual services of a prostitute, subject to force, coercion or fraud. It will be a strict liability offence. That is to say, ignorance of the fact that the person knew or ought to have known that any of the prostitutes activities were controlled for gain or were subject to force, deception or threats will not be a defence. I understand that the Bill received royal assent last Friday.
Garda Síochána operational measures also address prostitution — as has been evidenced by initiatives such as Operations Quest and Gladiator, which resulted in convictions and sentences, and the current ongoing Operation Abbey, a joint UK-Garda Síochána-Northern Ireland-Welsh operation as a result of which a person is currently before the courts in Wales.
In regard to the issue of setting up a high level group specifically to examine the laws concerning prostitution and extending the brief of the anti-human trafficking unit to include migrant women in prostitution, I have asked the trafficking unit in my Department to examine the ICI report, “Globalisation, Sex Trafficking and Prostitution -The Experiences of Migrant Women in Ireland” and to report back to me. I await that report and will decide then on what further action should be taken. During its second year of operation of the Dignity Project, an EU funded multinational, multi-agency research project into victim protection and care in the field of trafficking in human beings, the Irish partners might like to consider this proposal, including the use of some funding for study visits, and revert with their views in due course. One of the Oireachtas committees, perhaps, might access some of that funding, to find out the position in some other countries, particularly in relation to issues of prostitution, for instance, in Sweden, and see what has happened post-change there in that respect.
On the issue of prostitution, incidentally, for me to change the law, it would be necessary to be satisfied that any change would be in the interests of prostitutes and not leave them open to even greater exploitation by pimps, or not make it easier to induce young boys or girls into prostitution or increase the dangers being experienced by prostitutes by driving prostitution further underground or expose them to an even more violent type of client who would not be put off by changes in the law.
Again, I respectfully suggest that we should look at the experience in Sweden. My Department will do so, as perhaps could an Oireachtas committee with some funding in that respect from the Dignity project. Against this background, the suggestion made in the motion about a high-level group is somewhat premature at this stage.
I do not stand before the House tonight to claim that everything the Government is doing is perfect and needs no change. I accept that legislation should be reviewed on a constant basis as this issue is particularly new to Ireland. This is the reason I have been committed to launching the national action plan. I believe it is a living document, which should be kept under review, updated and subject to a mid-term review as is provided in the plan. Against this background, I commend the amendment to the House.
Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Deputy John Curran): I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak about this important issue. The debate on human trafficking and on prostitution tends to be clouded by emotive argument often based on preconceived opinion rather than on evidence or practice on the ground. I will seek to expand on some of the points made by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, and base my contribution on evidence and practice on the ground.
At the outset, I wish to address the claim that the Garda National Immigration Bureau, GNIB, is not the appropriate division within the Garda Síochána to tackle trafficking and that authority in this matter should be given over to the Garda organised crime unit. As the Minister noted, the deployment of personnel and the assignment of areas of responsibility is a matter for the Garda Commissioner. However, trafficking is an extremely complex phenomenon that overlaps a range of issues such as irregular migration, international organised crime, political and economic instability in countries of origin, among others. It is an over-simplification of the issue to suggest that trafficking in human beings can be dealt with solely by law enforcement authorities charged with investigating organised criminal gangs. While certainly there are numerous links between trafficking and organised crime, trafficking is intrinsically linked to migration as it usually, but not always, involves the movement of persons from one State to another and on balance is therefore best dealt with by the Garda National Immigration Bureau, which has particular expertise in the field of migration. Moreover, a dedicated unit within the GNIB, namely, the human trafficking investigation and co-ordination unit, has been established. This unit has the responsibility to provide advice, support and where necessary operational assistance to investigations undertaken at district level throughout Ireland.
The decision to give responsibility for the investigation of offences of human trafficking and the establishment of a dedicated unit for the investigation of human trafficking, in particular, took into consideration the links between the cross-border movement of persons and the identified links between the immigration process and human trafficking. The GNIB already has responsibility for international co-operation on breaches of immigration law. While the GNIB has primary responsibility for the investigation of immigration crime and human trafficking, the GNIB also is part of the national support services, which is comprised of other national units, including the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the Criminal Assets Bureau, the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation, the Garda national drugs unit, the Garda technical bureau and the operational support unit. All of the above units and the specialist services within them are available to the Garda National Immigration Bureau or any other district or division in the course of an investigation.
It also should be noted that approximately 350 gardaí throughout all the Garda divisions will have received in-depth training on tackling human trafficking, prevention and protection and in the investigation of crimes involving human trafficking by the end of this year. This training is delivered by the International Organization for Migration in co-operation with the GNIB. The United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre also contributes, and probably uniquely in a Garda training course, NGOs working in the areas of trafficking of human beings for sexual and labour exploitation contribute to the training by offering their perspective and experiences. This training is in addition to the more than 1,100 gardaí who have received basic training on awareness raising.
I now will turn to claims regarding the low number of victims and no prosecutions. Claims have been also made that few victims of trafficking have been identified and that no prosecutions have been forthcoming. I assure Members that the Garda Síochána has made concerted efforts to make certain that victims are recovered and protected and that traffickers are brought to justice. I have noted when attempts are made to evaluate the effectiveness of anti-trafficking activities that far too much emphasis is placed on the number of prosecutions made and the convictions obtained on foot of these. This fails to acknowledge the substantial work done in other areas, such as preventative action taken against traffickers, co-operation with other law enforcement authorities to tackle trafficking on an international level and the range of support services put in place to assist victims.
The Criminal Justice (Human Trafficking) Act 2008 came into force on 7 June 2008 or approximately 17 months ago. While the Garda Síochána is actively investigating cases, they are complex, time-consuming and notoriously difficult to prosecute. By way of example, one person who has sought access to the recovery and reflection period and who wanted to tell her story took five different sessions to do so. The typed report of her comments amounted to more than 55 pages. Since then however, the person in question has reverted to the Garda Síochána and has made an additional statement to the effect that she was not telling the truth in her original statement and that the person who she stated was her friend is in fact her alleged trafficker.
In order to address issues such as these, I have been informed by the Garda Síochána that a thorough and internationally recognised system of victim identification is in place. All information that is available to the Garda Síochána at the time the case is being considered is taken into account. To enable the Garda Síochána to establish what indicators of trafficking are present, it is necessary for the person alleging trafficking to be interviewed. The outcome of this interview assists the Garda Síochána in being satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for believing that the person is a suspected victim of human trafficking. Ultimately, to make a decision and to progress any investigation into such allegations of a criminal offence, possibly contrary to the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008, the Garda Síochána seeks to document the allegations in a statement. While “reasonable grounds” are not the same as evidence, the Garda Síochána must be in possession of sufficient information to afford reasonable grounds for that belief. Where there is insufficient information for the detective superintendent to have reasonable grounds for believing that a person is a victim of suspected trafficking, the case remains open and every effort is made to gather additional information from the potential victim or other sources. The National Action Plan to Prevent and Combat Trafficking of Human Beings in Ireland 2009-12 provides for the development of a memorandum of understanding between key stakeholders to take place over the lifetime of the plan. Identification may be one issue for which a memorandum of understanding could be considered.
I will now move to investigations. In 2008, 96 investigations were commenced where human trafficking was alleged or suspected. Sixty investigations relate to suspected breaches of the provisions of the Illegal Immigrants (Trafficking) Act 2000, while 36 investigations relate to suspected breaches of the provisions of the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008. Provisional figures for 2009 indicated that up to 9 November, 57 incidents have been recorded by the Garda Síochána under the category of human trafficking offences, 37 of which relate to possible offences under the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008, 18 to possible offences under the Illegal Immigrants (Trafficking) Act 2000 and the remaining two to possible offences under the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 1998. In the cases in question, 31 of the persons involved have made a claim of asylum and as a part of their claim have alleged that they were the victims of human trafficking.
A small number of files are with the Director of Public Prosecutions for a decision on whether to prosecute. At present one case is before the courts in which a person is charged with a human trafficking offence under the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008 in respect of the trafficking of a child for sexual exploitation. A total of 11 persons have been identified as suspected victims of human trafficking on the basis that there is reasonable grounds for believing that he or she was a victim of an offence under sections 2 or 4 of the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008. Five persons have been granted a temporary residence permission, which is valid for a period of six months from the date of grant. Two of these have been granted a second six-month temporary residence permission and three are in their first six month period of a temporary residence permission. Six persons have been granted the 60-days recovery and reflection period to which the Minister referred previously.
Account must be also taken of international co-operation undertaken by the Garda Síochána. While in many cases, due to the international nature of this issue, the Garda Síochána will engage in investigations, sometimes of a comprehensive nature, but the arresting, charging and convicting of suspects will take place in another jurisdiction. Three persons have been transferred under the European arrest warrant system to other EU states, including one who is a suspected international child trafficker who is due to stand trial in the Netherlands this month. The Garda National Immigration Bureau has forwarded significant bodies of evidence gathered in the course of investigations to the law enforcement authorities in other jurisdictions that has directly contributed to the initiation of trafficking related proceedings. In particular, it has supplied such evidence to Romania, the UK, Italy and the Netherlands. I hope my contribution to this debate has provided some insight into the complexity of the work of the dedicated team in the Garda National Immigration Bureau in the area of human trafficking.
Deputy Pat Rabbitte: I am pleased to have an opportunity to support this Fine Gael motion. I congratulate Deputy Naughten on assembling the motion and using Private Members’ Business to ventilate a subject that, as Deputy Connaughton said, is too frequently swept under the carpet. There is, however, a growing awareness of this issue. I have had the opportunity in the past year to address meetings in Cork, Sligo, Kilkenny, Galway and Dublin about this issue. I have the impression that even if relatively few have informed themselves on the subject, they are doing so and there is a growing awareness of the change taking place in the character of prostitution in Ireland. More people are coming into contact with people from outside this jurisdiction who have been trafficked here for the purposes of labour or sexual exploitation. This subject has rarely been dealt with in this House.
If there is one woman trafficked for purposes of sexual exploitation, or indeed labour exploitation, into this country, it is one case too many. We know that human trafficking is not a phenomenon that excludes Ireland, even if we do not have especially extensive data in this area. This motion reproduces the key statistics from the Immigrant Council of Ireland report, to which the Minister referred, entitled Globalisation, Sex trafficking and Prostitution. The figures are not wildly different from those contained in the study done by Dr. Eilís Ward of NUI Galway and Dr Gillian Wylie of Trinity College. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform concedes that it does not have reliable data on the extent of trafficking in our jurisdiction but says: “it is likely to have been a relatively minor activity but has the potential to grow”. Since it made that comment there is more information available that challenges the claim that the phenomenon is relatively minor.
Belatedly in 2008 the Government moved to comply with its international obligations when enacting the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act. Apart from bringing us towards compliance, the parliamentary process had the merit of ventilating a phenomenon in Irish society about which there is still a great deal of ignorance. We know that sex trafficking, defined in international law by the 2000 Palermo Protocol, involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to transport an unwilling victim into sexual exploitation and is a lucrative racket dominated by international crime networks. Ireland is not immune from this racketeering in human beings. Those trafficked are mainly young, vulnerable women often fleeing poverty in their countries of origin or deceived into seeking a better life on the false undertakings of the criminal networks involved in trafficking.
The new legislation creates a criminal offence of trafficking persons into, through or out of Ireland for the purpose of their sexual or labour exploitation. During the course of its passage through the Dáil, the Labour Party tried to focus on the need for the protection of, and provision of services to, victims of trafficking. We were convinced that the trafficking of young women for purposes of exploitation is quite separate, and should be kept separate, from issues that arise in the context of immigration, yet the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform chose to make a partial response to our claims in the context not of the human trafficking Bill but rather in the context of the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill.
Human trafficking cannot be appropriately addressed in the context of immigration legislation. Such measures as are now offered in this context will require to be monitored rigorously. I hope the Minister will use Report Stage of the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill to insert, in particular, special provisions for under age persons. The right of minors to services ought not depend on co-operation with a criminal investigation or prosecution. I agree with everything Deputy Naughten said about children’s rights and the need for protection for children in this regard.
Only a few weeks ago I was indebted to the Minister for his assistance in dealing with a trafficking case that presented at my clinic. This involved a case of a woman trafficked into domestic labour seven days a week, commencing at 6.30 a.m. for six of those days until 11 p.m. for €120 per week.
I support the measures proposed by Deputy Naughten in this motion, to end the policy of placing victims of human trafficking in asylum centres and introduce independent accommodation, support and protection services. The proposal to extend the period of recovery and reflection as defined in the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill 2008 is a matter on which I sponsored an amendment on Committee Stage and I hope we can improve on it on Report Stage. One of Deputy Naughten’s main objectives is to move the focus on human trafficking from the Garda National Immigration Bureau to the Garda organised crime unit. He seeks to extend the remit of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform’s anti-human trafficking unit to include migrant women in prostitution and to establish a high level group to examine our prostitution laws with a view to preventing the proliferation of sex trafficking.
It is timely that we would examine the modern character of prostitution and its connection to the phenomenon of human trafficking and criminality and what steps ought to be taken to address the issues that arise. I had the opportunity a few months ago to meet a senior Swedish politician, courtesy of the organisation Ruhama which does excellent work at the coalface. She detailed to me the progress made in Sweden as a result of the recent decision to criminalise the purchase of sex. I have also read material that is equivocal on the outcomes in Sweden and is fearful of the implications of driving prostitution further underground.
My attention has also been drawn to an extensive analysis in The Guardian by Nick Davies which disputes the scale of trafficking for purposes of sexual exploitation into the UK. He develops at some length his thesis that the minimal research available is distorted. Time does not permit me to go into detail on that now but his views are vehemently contested in the UK. Therefore, I welcome the proposition to establish a high level group with appropriate professional support that can assess conflicting evidence and analyse the available literature, including the Swedish experience and the legislative measures currently contemplated in the UK. That way I hope we will not have to re-invent the wheel but get the best from the Swedish and British practice. The establishment of the anti-trafficking unit must put the State in a better position than it has been in up to now, particularly with experience garnered.
A distinction must be drawn between victims of human trafficking who require help, care and protection and migrants, whether legal or illegal. Listening to the Minister, I was not persuaded he accepted that distinction. There is a major gap between the Minister’s perception of the operation of existing procedures in this area and the experience of persons working at the coalface. I hope tonight’s debate will bring renewed efforts by the House to address a phenomenon that oppresses and degrades women in our society irrespective of their country of origin.
Sinn Féin broadly supports the Fine Gael motion. In many respects, it does not go far enough in demanding the introduction of real, effective measures to combat human trafficking and to protect the victims of this odious crime. While Sinn Féin welcomed the Minister’s human trafficking legislation, it believes it did not go far enough.
While progress has been made in this area, the Government’s predictably self-congratulatory amendment makes reference to the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings. The State has not even ratified that convention. There is nothing in the Government amendment suggesting that it plans to. Just as we were the last EU state to make human trafficking an offence, we are now lagging behind the 26 other Council of Europe members that have already ratified the convention. It is a shameful distinction and one that the Government should reverse immediately.
I welcome the plans to extend the recovery period to 60 days, up from the 45 days currently provided for in the Immigration Residence and Protection Bill. Deputy Naughten’s Committee Stage amendments called for a 90-day period although that is not reflected in the Fine Gael motion. The amendment that Deputy Finian McGrath submitted in my name called for it to be extended to six months. I repeat that call.
When someone has been through such a traumatic experience, it is simply unrealistic to expect them to recover from it quickly. Sixty days is an improvement on 45 but it is still insufficient if the aim is to provide genuine assistance to these victims rather than to use them to gain prosecutions only. It must always be remembered that these are the victims of an odious crime.
By the same token, it is crucial the recovery period not be made dependent on co-operation with the Garda. Many victims are simply too traumatised. Often they may have genuine and understandable fears about co-operating with the police due to the nature of policing in their home countries. There is also a real risk in some cases that co-operation could put themselves or their families in danger. Traffickers often keep their victims in line by means of threats to their families or to themselves if they ever return home.
There are also young people trafficked by family members or family friends who exercise authority over them which, due to cultural factors, the young person may not feel able to defy. There are several reasons why a trafficking victim may not co-operate with police but this does not negate their human right to a recovery period.
This is made clear in the convention which states that the personal situation of the victim should also be taken into account. It was also noted by the expert group on trafficking in human beings, established by the European Commission in 2003, which advised:
Recovery should be a central objective of government policy in this area. The national action plan, referred to in the amendment, is weak on supports for trafficking victims. In many cases these people have been raped, beaten, tortured and abused. It is unclear how their needs for legal assistance, safe and secure housing, social supports, interpretation, translation, counselling and suitable medical care are to be met. This assistance must be provided to victims, regardless of their willingness to act as a witness in any proceedings against those responsible for their trafficking. We would welcome the support of victims in any proceedings against the perpetrator but it should not always be compulsory.
Human trafficking can encompass a wide range of forced activities. The Fine Gael motion concentrates on sex trafficking but there are other forms. Around the globe, and undoubtedly in Ireland, significant numbers of people are trafficked to work in the domestic sector, the agriculture and catering industries. I commend the Migrant Rights Centre for the excellent work it has done in exposing these practices, but the extent of trafficking for forced labour is still under-recognised.
The head of the British human trafficking centre, North Yorkshire Chief Constable Grahame Maxwell, recently stated more people are trafficked for labour exploitation than for sexual exploitation. I am not sure whether that is the case in Ireland. However, as long this type of trafficking is overlooked there will be many cases that go undetected and with dire consequences for its victims.
The Government could take a significant step toward ending this practice by signing and ratifying the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families. This has been in force since June 2003 and is the only one of the core UN human rights treaties that the State has not signed. In defending its refusal to sign, the Government continues to hide behind the Common Travel Area. Anyone who has tried to enter this State from Britain in the past six or seven years knows that the Common Travel Area is dead in the water.
Greater attention also needs to be paid to the trafficking of children not only for sexual exploitation and forced labour but also for begging and petty theft. The International Organization for Migration has noted a marked increase in this problem across Europe in recent years. A report published by the Swedish national criminal police earlier this year described how what appears to be a family unit consisting of two adults and two to three children will travel from country to country, with the children being sent out to do the begging or stealing because they can usually avoid prosecution. The report stated the children are trained from an early age not to co-operate with the authorities which reinforces the point I made earlier about the need to separate co-operation from the granting of a recovery period.
Again, the extent of this type of trafficking in this State is unclear but it merits investigation, particularly in view of the unfortunate comments recently made by a judge about certain parents raising their children to steal. There are children being raised to steal, undoubtedly, but it may not be their parents doing the raising.
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