The Government has failed to bring Britain in line with European laws on human trafficking, according to leading charities, who say victims of the crime are being left vulnerable to further abuse.
David Cameron announced that the UK would join Europe-wide measures to combat the crime two years ago, after a five-month campaign by The Independent on Sunday. Announcing the Government’s decision, he pledged to make Britain a “world leader” in tackling the crime.
But charities warn that with less than a month to go before the April 6 deadline for Britain to comply with the terms of the EU directive, it is failing victims in three major areas. Child victims are not assigned guardians, which could stop so many going missing from care and help them through the legal system; many trafficking victims still do not get protection during criminal proceedings; victims have little or no access to compensation and legal assistance, thanks to changes to legal aid and being barred from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme.
Thousands of people are estimated to be trafficked into Britain every year. Some are forced to work in the sex trade, others as domestic servants or for manual labour.
In a joint letter to David Cameron and immigration minister Mark Harper MP, seen by the IoS, twelve leading charities have demanded the introduction of the “necessary legislation” so Britain can “lead the fight against slavery”. The signatories include campaigning charities as well as service providers, such as ECPAT UK, Stop the Traffik, William Wilberforce Trust and CARE.
Louise Gleich, human trafficking expert at the social policy charity CARE, said: “It is time that victims of labour exploitation shouldn’t have to give evidence in court face-to-face with the person who enslaved them and that all human trafficking victims should have meaningful access to compensation and legal assistance. It is time that trafficked children do not become lost in the system and suffer the tragedy of being re-trafficked because instead they are supported consistently by a specialist child trafficking guardian, throughout the entire processing of their case. The Government must not drag its feet where the protection of trafficking victims is concerned, having eventually opted into the EU Anti-Trafficking Directive it is imperative that we achieve fulsome compliance by the 6 April deadline.”
The Government’s continued failure to appoint child guardians is the most controversial of the three failures outlined by charities. Of 942 children rescued from trafficking between 2005 and 2010, 301 were then lost by the authorities, a statistic that the letter calls “a national disgrace”. Experts say that without the legal guardians required by the EU, hundreds will continue to go missing from care and return to the gangs that took them.
Bharti Patel, chief executive of children’s rights charity ECPAT UK, said: “The current provisions fall significantly short of what is needed to keep these vulnerable children safe and ensure their rights are upheld. Too many children are overlooked, not protected and don’t get the support that they desperately need as victims of abuse and exploitation. Trafficked children are usually alone in the UK with no one who has parental responsibility for them, to make decisions in their best interests and to champion their rights. Currently, they face complex and terrifying systems of welfare, immigration and law enforcement with no one to guide them through.”
Klara Skrivankova, trafficking programme coordinator at Anti-Slavery International, said: “Victims of trafficking are first and foremost victims of a serious crime, which is the second most lucrative criminal enterprise globally. Those brave enough to speak out against their trafficking risk their lives and those of their family. The government must ensure that they are adequately protected if they decide to partake in the criminal proceedings. Trafficking is a profitable business that yields the traffickers an estimated 32 billion dollars yearly from the exploitation of others. Victims of this crime are entitled to compensation for the losses and abuses they have suffered. Seizing traffickers’ assets and using them to compensate victims hits the traffickers where it hurts the most and also acts as a strong deterrent. Compensation for trafficked victims has not been a priority of the UK Government’s efforts so far, and this needs to be changed with the entry into force of the Directive.”
A government spokesman said: “Human trafficking is abhorrent and the UK government is committed to combating this crime in all its forms. We have already made significant progress in the fight against trafficking through the government’s Human Trafficking Strategy and will demonstrate compliance with the EU directive by 6 April 2013.”
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