Dee Doocey writes … Protecting children should be at the centre of the fight against slavery

DisappointmentAccording to the US State Department at a global level people trafficking ranks as the third largest source of income for organised crime, coming after only drugs and the arms trade.

So as someone who has campaigned over many years to highlight the significance of human trafficking, especially of children, it is obviously welcome that we finally have a Bill recognising the shocking reality of modern day slavery going through Parliament.

Today is the Second Reading of the Modern Slavery Bill in the House of Lords, with the Bill having already passed most of its stages in the Commons.

However, my starting point is that as it currently stands the Bill is set only to be a good Bill, not a great Bill. It has far too many loopholes within it, and it fails to set a proper standard for the rest of the world.

My key interest in this Bill is offences against children – an area where the Bill is far too weak.

Part 1 of the Bill contains an offence of slavery or servitude but as it is written it requires evidence of ‘forced or compulsory labour’ which should not be required in the case of children.

A child can obviously be controlled far more easily than an adult, without force or compulsion. We should therefore accept this and include in this Bill a separate offence of Child Exploitation.

I could give a number of practical examples of why such a new offence is needed, but let me just give one.

The Crown Prosecution Service has continually failed to demonstrate how they will prosecute anyone for the trafficking of babies and infants who are unable to give evidence. These cases do not reach the threshold of slavery, forced or compulsory labour or sexual exploitation. An offence of child exploitation would be an unambiguous solution where the infant is too young to give evidence.

What is frustrating is that loopholes in the proposed legislation are widely recognised, including by the Joint Committee of MPs and Peers that I served on, which examined in detail the Draft Bill earlier this year. Similar concerns about the Bill are shared by the Joint Select Committee on Human Rights, not to mention many children’s charities.

Another weakness in the Bill is Clause 45 which provides a statutory defence for slavery or trafficking victims who are compelled to commit a criminal offence. However, as the Refugee Children’s Consortium argues, this does not go far enough to protect children.

To be able to use the protection of this defence, an already traumatised child needs to prove that they were compelled to commit an offence, and that it was a direct result of slavery or trafficking.

This is an unnecessary burden, when the crimes they commit are integral to, or as a consequence of, their trafficking or exploitation.

Real improvements are needed in the proposed legislation.

Just last year the National Crime Agency estimated that 602 children were trafficked into the UK for the purpose of exploitation.

Girls were predominantly exploited sexually, and boys were largely exploited for criminal or labour purposes.

These are shocking statistics, and there is a general consensus amongst all the agencies who work in this field that the true figures are likely to be far higher.

Just think about it. Today, as with every day of the year probably two children have been trafficked into the UK.

The way we treat children defines us as a society. It is completely unacceptable that child slavery and exploitation is still happening now in this country and I hope the Government finally accepts the overwhelming evidence of the need to include in this Bill a separate child exploitation offence. This would make a fundamental difference to the lives of hundreds if not thousands of children who are being exploited on a daily basis.

* Dee Doocey is Liberal Democrat Tourism Spokesperson in the House of Lords.

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  • Baroness Doocey 20th Nov '14 - 1:16pm

    Belinda, the proposal for a specific child exploitation offence would not relate to sexual exploitation, since as you rightly point out this is covered elsewhere in legislation. The issue we have is that children cannot consent to being exploited, but might accept what they are being asked to do by family members without question, because doing whatever an adult tells you to would be expected. In such circumstances, when a child was asked to beg by members of their ‘family’, they might willingly do this, and this exploitation would not be covered by the Bill as drafted (because this requires evidence of force or compulsion). Similarly, children who are used to claim multiple times for asylum support would not be covered. And I go back to the example in my article above about the so-called ‘miracle babies’ who are brought in from baby farms abroad for the purposes of illegal adoption – these children would also not be covered by the Bill as drafted.

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