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Two cheers for Brian Lenihan: Campaigners force movement on trafficking January 17, 2008

Posted by franklittle in Britain, Crime, Feminism, Sex.

Last year saw some celebrations and historical commentary on the fact that 2007 marks the two hundredth anniversary of the abolition of slavery. To be more accurate, it marked two centuries since the Slave Trade Act of 1807 outlawed trade in slavery, not the possession of slaves, which would not finally come to an end until 1838, and even at that the trade was only outlawed within the British Empire, leaving vast swathes of the world to continue the practice.

But laws and collections of commemorative essays fail to conceal that slavery is alive and well. According to Europol, human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal business in the world, ranking only behind the trades in illegal drugs and arms. Make no mistake. Slaves are currently held in Ireland. They are, for the most part, women though they include children and occasionally men.

In Britain Operation Pentameter last year rescued more than 80 women and children, including ones as young as 14, from sex slavery and made 200 arrests. In July 2007, a BBC undercover team exposed a Bulgarian child trafficking ring, which habitually used Cherbourg to Rosslare and then over the border into the North as a way of getting children into Britain. An unnamed Garda officer quoted in the report told the BBC, “You’d have to be naive to think children had not been trafficked through Ireland.”

In August 2007, the Welsh Assembly published a report on trafficking, which referred to, “an increasing trend for children to arrive via smaller airports or in Wales by ferry from Ireland.” In October a study carried out at NUI Galway claimed to have identified 76 women trafficked into the sex trade in Ireland from Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia and South America. Ruhama, which provide supports to women involved in prostitution, has estimated a more accurate figure to be around 200.

One of the defences of slavery in the 19th century was that as the slaves were considered valuable property, they were likely to be treated well by their owners lest the investment be lost. No such defence can be made around the modern day slave trade. British police have identified numerous cases of women trafficked into Britain in the belief they would be working in legitimate jobs only to end up, in one case, being forcibly raped by between 30 and 40 strangers a day. The British Crown Prosecution Service has identified a case where a trafficking victim was the subject of a slave auction in the coffee shop in the arrivals hall of Glasgow International Airport while brothel keepers bidded on her. Trafficked women who resist are likely to be beaten or their families in their home countries threatened.

And if the women are rescued, they are often liable to be deported as illegals without any consideration of the risks facing them when they return. A New Internationalist investigation into trafficking a couple of months ago identified cases where women arriving off flights in their home countries following deportation were met on arrival by the same criminal gang that had trafficked them in the first place.


Information about trafficking is hard to come by. There are no Health and Safety Inspections. The victims are often too scared to co-operate or are scared of the very authorities they would normally report to. Some might even decide that being a slave in Britain or France is better than being free and starving in Moldova or Ukraine. Language and cultural difficulties, shame, fear of being imprisoned and the closed nature of criminal activity in general makes hard and fast statistics hard to come by.

The official government position is that there is no evidence of a significant human trafficking problem in Ireland, though in recent months this has shifted ever so slightly to an acknowledgement that that it could become one of it is not addressed. Curiously, despite the fact that there is no ‘substantial human trafficking problem’ since his appointment as Justice Minister Brian Lenihan has moved pretty swiftly.

In October, he published the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Bill 2007, which for the first time would make the trafficking of people aged over the age of 16 a crime with a maximum sentence of life. As well as making trafficking an actual offence it provides anonymity for trafficking victims and the power to exclude the members of the public from court proceedings where publicity might place the victims of trafficking, or their families, at risk. As well as making it illegal to traffic someone for sexual or labour exploitation, it makes it illegal to do so for the harvesting of vital organs. A pleasant reminder of the world we live in.

But Minister Lenihan was not done yet and announced a number of other measures with the legislation. A High Level Group to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings was set up, tieing in government departments, the Gardaí, immigration and various NGOs. The Group will put together a National Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings.

It’s all good, and a tribute to groups like Ruhama, the ICCL, IRC, Migrant Rights and Amnesty who have campaigned on this for the last couple of years that the government feels forced to take these initiatives for something it claims to believe it not a significant problem. So, why only two cheers for the Dublin West TD?

The major weakness of the Bill is the lack of supports and protections for the victims of trafficking. The Bill is designed entirely from a law enforcement point of view. The needs of the people, predominantly women and children, that are being trafficked are notable by their absence despite the physical and psychological abuses they will have suffered. There is no legally mandated time to recover from their traumatic experience. Immediately deporting trafficking victims makes it all the harder to convict traffickers, and all the more likely the victims will end up either back in Ireland, or trafficked elsewhere. It also means there is little advantage for trafficking victims to come forward to the authorities if they know the ‘reward’ is a one-way trip home to meet the criminal associates of the people they just put in prison in Ireland.

While he acknowledges the gap, Lenihan argues this will be dealt with in the government’s forthcoming Immigration, Resident and Protection Bill. Three problems with this. Firstly, the Bill hasn’t been published and likely won’t have been published by the time the trafficking legislation goes through the Oireachtas, so even if it does deal with the issue, how do we know it deals with it adequately? Secondly, he chances of the Bill getting through all stages between the start of February and the long summer recess aren’t great. At the rate the Oireachtas is currently going the likelihood of the Bill being passed in 2008 wouldn’t be great, so what happens between the passing of the trafficking legislation and the new immigration bill.

Finally, the debate on the new immigration legislation is going to be a big one. It’s going to be heated, on both sides of the fence, and the victims of trafficking could easily get lost in the maelstrom. On Dáil Committee Stage of the Bill, Labour’s Pat Rabbitte and Fine Gael’s Denis Naughten both movement amendments designed to deal with this and though Lenihan refused to take them, he did seem open to the possibility of an ‘administrative arrangement’ being contained in the trafficking bill to deal with the gap between the trafficking bill and the immigration legislation. It’s something worth keeping an eye on.

The Garda Policing Plan 2008 is also a disappointment. There is only one reference to trafficking in the entire document, where a commitment is made to a 5% increase in intelligence-led operations against drugs, guns and human trafficking organisations. Elsewhere in the same section, the phenomenon is referred to as illegal trafficking in immigrants, which is something substantially and clearly different to the trafficking of slaves. There is also no reference in the plan to Operation Pentameter II, the sequel to the British plan mentioned above which is to include the Gardaí.

Still, as serious as these problems and gaps are, and the difficulties should not be underestimated, the government has moved substantially in the last few months on the issue, largely because of the work of activists in various NGOs, especially migrant and women’s groups. The fight’s not done, and there’s been a lot of progress, but two centuries after William Wilberforce ‘abolished’ slavery, they’re still smuggling, trading and abusing women and children all across Europe tonight.


1. Tushar - January 18, 2008

UN.GIFT (United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking ) website http://www.ungift.org aims to be an extension of UN GIFT activities worldwide. We would like it to evolve into a vibrant online community where people exchange views, showcase their work, talk about their experiences to strengthen the fight against human trafficking. With your help we can make it a valuable resource to take this fight forward. Organized crime of human trafficking needs a fitting organized response.

• It is time to join forces to prevent human trafficking.
• Give this global problem a global solution.
• Rally under the banner of the Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking.
• Get involved!
• Together we can save people and put traffickers behind bars.

UN.GIFT was formally launched in London on 26 March 2007. It is designed to have a long-term impact to create a turning point in the worldwide fight against human trafficking. 27million people are trafficked each year. UN.GIFT intends to take action against human trafficking in all its manifestations – commercial sexual exploitation, bonded labour, organ trade, camel jockeying, forced marriages, domestic labour, illegal adoption, and other exploitative work – through creating partnerships at a global level with all sectors of society.

The ultimate goal of the Global Initiative is to contribute to ending human trafficking– estimated to have a total market value of about $32 billion worldwide. UNODC has a two-pronged strategy for achieving this goal – increasing public awareness of the problem and coordinating existing but disparate efforts by international and national groups, governments and non-governmental organizations and by concerned individuals to end the practice.

Numerous regional GIFT events will culminate in Vienna with a Global Forum against Human Trafficking from 13th to 15th Feb 2008.

The objective of The Vienna Forum is to raise awareness, facilitate cooperation and partnerships among the various stakeholders. It will bring together representatives from Member States, UN system organizations, other regional and international organizations, the business community, academia, non-governmental organizations and other elements of civil society. The Forum will allow for an open environment to enable all parties involved to take concrete steps to fight human trafficking, within their spheres of action.

The Forum will be a catalyst for solution-seeking ideas and address three overriding themes on human trafficking:
1.Vulnerability: why does human trafficking happen;
2. Impact: human and social consequences of human trafficking;
3. Action: innovative approaches to solving complex problems.

The Vienna Forum will also consist of plenary sessions and a variety of panel discussions and workshops especially designed to address the multi-faceted dimensions of human trafficking.



2. Знаменка - January 26, 2008

It’s a big problem in the modern Ukraine.


3. WorldbyStorm - January 26, 2008

That’s entirely credible.


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