Jenny Marra MSP : Human Trafficking ( Scottish Parliament speech)

29 February 2012

Presiding officer, it would be a missed opportunity to spend this afternoon telling each other what a horrendous crime human trafficking is.

It is horrendous, despicable and inhumane. No person should be forced or sold against their will for someone else’s profit or gain.

But we agree on that and must move immediately to action.

How to solve this problem in Scotland. How to prevent Scotland being, as the Children’s Commissioner’s report suggested last year – a safe place for traffickers.

Because we can be under no illusions that human trafficking is not happening here in Scotland.

The Cabinet Secretary told us in the Chamber last year that there is not enough evidence of it to warrant action.

But his own Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency Director, Gordon Meldrum believes that ignorance to the problem is not an excuse to ignore it, but an incentive to tackle it.

Mr Meldrum states: "There has been an understandable desire to put a scale on the size of the human trafficking problem we face. "

Our assessment is that the information currently available from existing sources does not present an accurate picture of what is truly taking place. Knowing whether you are one of ten victims or one of a hundred doesn’t change the hell you have been through.

So collectively we need to move on from looking to ‘prove’ that this is an issue, to one in which we accept it is an issue and concentrate on developing our knowledge where it will count.

Count for the victims and count against the traffickers.

For those who still need figures as proof to take action, the Children’s Commissioner’s reported last year that social workers had concerns that 249 children they had seen had been trafficked.

Compare this to the 14 referrals from the UK Border Agency, to whom we currently look to deal with trafficking and we can see that there is something far wrong.

We can no longer afford to wash our hands of this problem and put it at the door of the UK Border Agency because they are primarily concerned with migration.

Trafficking is a different problem.

It has victims forced against their will.

There are child protection issues, there are domestic abuse issues, there are forced marriage issues, there are criminal gangs, there are proceeds of crime – there are a myriad of problems that we have devolved competence to legislate on and tackle.

So why wait?

Firstly, I would like the Cabinet Secretary to consider making human trafficking a statutory aggravation.

This is a proposal with that the Lord Advocate Frank Mulholland backs.

Some people who traffic other humans can be brought into court on other charges – benefit fraud, assault, child abuse.

Making trafficking an aggravation is a simple legal measure the Government could take to show the courts and police the severity of the crime and increase the number of perpetrators who are brought to justice for it.

In considering this, the Government may also seek to consider whether it might look at a lesser burden of proof.

The justification for this is the intrinsic difficulties in identifying victims, their fear for themselves and their families if they speak out and the nature of the lives they lead that keep them concealed - out of the eyes of witnesses and the authorities.

To give an example.

There are women here in Edinburgh today who are living in forced domestic servitude.

They came to this country on a false promise of a better life and marriage and when they arrived they were coerced into marriage that often develops into domestic abuse, forced and permanent care for relatives, no money, no freedom, no life.

They are not allowed to go out alone.

This testimony I heard yesterday from Women’s Aid is just one example that shows the difficulties in identifying victims and why a lesser burden of proof could be considered.

Statutory aggravation would be a start.

What else?

Leadership from Government and a published strategy involving all agencies with the backing of parliament to make sure that traffickers can’t disappear between the cracks as they do at the moment.

One thing that all major reports agree upon is that the Scottish Government must take leadership in developing a strategy of practical measures to improve the way Scotland approaches human trafficking.

In key areas such as information gathering and sharing, awareness raising and strengthening legislation, the Government is the prime body with the power to legislate, convene and provide a platform to advance these aims.

I would like the minister in closing to comment on specific Government plans for just some of these.

The Forum suggested by the Government in today’s motion does not go far enough.

If the Government could commit today to launching a Strategy and targets for action on the back of the Forum then there will be more confidence in their commitment to tackle trafficking.

In December, in a debate on the Legacy of the Commonwealth Games I extended the concern of Baroness Helena Kennedy to Sports Minister Shona Robison that the games pose a stark risk of an increase in trafficked persons to Scotland.

I called on the Government to provide anti-trafficking training to frontline emergency service workers in the Greater Glasgow area to mitigate that risk.

Indeed some of the Games contractors are already undergoing anti-trafficking training organised by Glasgow City Council.

Unfortunately Shona Robison the Minister for Sport said that there was not enough evidence of trafficking to justify this training, and I would like the Minister in her closing remarks to reflect on whether she believes the risk of human trafficking is still insufficient to refuse such training; and, if not, whether the Government will reconsider this idea.

Raising awareness is critical too. I have lodged a motion in parliament that has attracted cross party interest urging the Government to adopt legislation similar to England that recognises Anti-Slavery day, occurring on the 18th of October every year, with the purpose of raising wider public awareness on human trafficking.

Trafficking is the modern form of slavery.

Anti-slavery day has proven a successful means of capturing public attention, and I would ask the Minister if she will set the ball rolling for Scotland to recognise Anti-Slavery Day.

Lastly I would like to focus the Government’s attention on the people that matter most - the victims of human trafficking.

Does the Government agree that we must move away from treating victims of human trafficking through the prism of asylum, and look towards developing a multi-agency, end-to-end approach by means of a Scottish National Referral Mechanism that better accounts for the needs of victims from the point of detection so they have access to the help and care they need after suffering so horrifically.

Presiding officer, these are just a few of the recommendations that have come from the recent reports on human trafficking in Scotland.

They show the level of changes that we must make to Scotland’s human trafficking strategy.

The Government may want to consider bring these measures together – the statutory aggravation, the National Referral Mechanism and a statutory obligation for agencies to work together in a Human Trafficking Act.

I want to emphasise that these changes are entirely achievable. We owe it to the victims of human trafficking to do more than we are doing.

In the words of John Stuart Mill: "A person may cause evil to others not only by his action but by his inaction, and in either case he is justly accountable to them for the injury."


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