Human trafficking


THE HUMAN Trafficking Act, passed into law two years ago, makes it a criminal offence to engage in the trafficking of people for commercial gain. The victims involved are generally women, abducted in some of the world’s poorest regions, and either sexually exploited as prostitutes in the developed world or forced to work in conditions of involuntary servitude.

According to a legal analysis of the legislation – prepared for a Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland and Irish Congress of Trade Unions seminar last week – the Act criminalises not only those who traffic people, by bringing them into this country against their will, but also outlaws forced labour in Ireland. As a result, the employers of those victims of trafficking – who have been coerced into working in restaurants or in private homes – could face prosecution and a penalty of up to life imprisonment.

Trafficking is a modern form of slavery that governments worldwide are struggling to eliminate. Ireland has faced some severe criticism for its efforts to meet that challenge. Last year the US state department, in its annual global review of how countries are tackling the problem, found the Government had failed to meet the minimum standards required to eliminate trafficking. However, the review did acknowledge progress; through the enactment of legislation, efforts to raise trafficking awareness and more investigations carried out into potential trafficking offences.

Some 66 victims of trafficking were identified in 2009. But to date, two years after its introduction, no convictions have been secured under the Human Trafficking Act. This disappointing outcome is illustrative of the need for practical guidelines to help gardaí to recognise victims. Last month, Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern withdrew a major legislative measure, the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill, in favour of a new Bill to take account of the very many amendments proposed by Opposition deputies. One change that the Minister has promised to include in the new Bill is to extend the “recovery period” of residence that is currently offered to victims of human trafficking – increasing it from 45 to 60 days.

The victims of human trafficking face many hazards, and not least the risk of arrest, detention and deportation as illegal immigrants. For those who have been greatly traumatised by their abduction and ill treatment, and who are themselves crime victims, the Minister’s proposed change in the law is merited and overdue.