Ireland’s ‘chronic’ record on human trafficking detailed in report sent to UN committee

Forced marriages in some ethnic minority communities remain a ‘hidden issue’ in Ireland due to lack of data, says human rights body

A “chronic deficiency” in Ireland’s response to human trafficking has been highlighted in a report sent to a United Nations committee.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) said prosecutions for human trafficking remain “exceeding low”, while a severe lack of safe and appropriate accommodation for female trafficking victims means they are largely accommodated in direct provision.

There are only eight beds for trafficking victims in a shelter opened as a pilot this year, it said. This, it stressed, is “far below the level of need”, considering 42 victims – including three girls – were identified by gardaí last year.

The rights watchdog also pointed to the inadequacy of refuge places for domestic abuse victims and said early and forced marriages in some migrant and ethnic minority communities remain a “hidden issue” in Ireland due to a lack of official data.


IHREC flagged a range of concerns in a 99-page document submitted to the UN’s committee Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

Ireland has various anti-sex discrimination obligations due to its accession to the CEDAW legal instrument in 1985. These include submitting reports every four years on how CEDAW rights are being implemented. National human rights institutions are also encouraged to submit opinions.

IHREC, as the State’s national equality body with statutory functions, commended enhanced legislative protections introduced for domestic violence victims in Ireland but expressed a concern that the changes are failing to translate into “tangible improvements”.

Policy responses to the issue do not reference forms of sex-based violence that disproportionately affect migrant and ethnic minority women, the body said.

The UN committee should question the State on the availability of services, supports and responder training to prevent, identify and respond to female genital mutilation and early and forced marriages, IHREC said.

It has concerns that women and girls outside of Dublin who have been subjected to female genital mutilation do not have access to care, while the Criminal Justice (Female Genital Mutilation) Act of 2012 appears to be underused.

Equality legislation

The State depends on civil society organisations to carry out many of its human rights obligations regarding violence against women, IHREC added, saying it “regrets” that these are not adequately funded despite concerns raised to the CEDAW committee previously.

The issue of sex-based violence was just one of many raised by IHREC, which also outlined concerns under headings such as women’s healthcare and equality legislation.

The organisation said it has repeatedly highlighted “considerable shortfalls” in Ireland’s equality data which impeded a thorough and accurate assessment of the State’s performance under CEDAW.

IHREC chief commissioner Sinéad Gibney said the group’s report shows there have been some positive developments in Ireland in recent years. However, there are significant gaps to be “seriously addressed” in areas such as healthcare, political participation, poverty and the impact of climate change, she said.

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan

Ellen O'Riordan is an Irish Times reporter