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People Trafficking: Children

Volume 684: debated on Tuesday 11 July 2006

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they have any plans to introduce legislation to create an offence of child trafficking.

My Lords, prosecutions for child trafficking can be pursued within the terms of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004. Convictions of child traffickers using this new legislation have already been obtained. We are keeping the effectiveness of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 under review. We have no current plans for further legislation.

My Lords, did not the Minister in another place, Mr Tony McNulty, very recently confirm that no legal offence of child trafficking existed and that therefore immigration authorities, social services and the police do not take action specifically against it? Is there not now clear evidence that hundreds of children are being trafficked into Britain and used in private houses, cannabis factories and sweatshops? Will the Minister now go further than her very sympathetic answers to this House on 28 June and persuade the Government to legislate against it?

My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness that it is possible to bring cases against those who traffic children under the Sexual Offences Act. Of course, we have now done that successfully, and the Crown Prosecution Service has recorded 10 offenders convicted of child trafficking-related offences who have received prison sentences of up to 18 years. That was up till March of this year. We do not have further data, but I assure the noble Baroness that we are reviewing the Sexual Offences Act and will take steps if we feel that further offences need to be created to bring this dreadful and disgraceful offence to book.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that trafficking in women and children is now as profitable as trafficking in drugs? Would she also note UNICEF’s report that twice as many countries are now reporting child abduction and trafficking than was the case two years ago? What priority is the Serious Organised Crime Agency giving to this matter and is there now a common Europe-wide policy to tackle this vile problem?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right that there appears to be a level of trafficking in women and children for non-sexual work, exploitation and matters of that sort. It is a matter of huge concern to us. I hope that thenoble Lord will be reassured by the work that the Government are doing. We have set up a ministerial group on trafficking and an advisory stakeholder group, and we are working with SOCA to deal directly with the matter. There have been operational developments—for instance, global change in UK visa requirements ensuring better identification of minors and matters of that sort. I assure the noble Lord that we are working extremely energetically with all the criminal justice agencies to grip this offence and deal with it trenchantly and effectively.

My Lords, what is being done to ensure that those working in social services, education and health are aware of the pointers that children are being trafficked, given trafficked children’s fear of admitting what has happened to them?

My Lords, I touched on that in part. We set up the ministerial group on trafficking at the beginning of 2005 to co-ordinate throughout Whitehall the policy that represents a more robust response to this difficulty. A number of departments are engaged; we understand the role that social workers and others are playing. I hope that noble Lords will be pleased to know that, as a result of the work, we have specialist teams of social workers and trained immigration officers at 22 ports to deal with all unaccompanied children, and the DfES is working to safeguard children, too. Noble Lords will know that that is a multidisciplinary response.

My Lords, when a trafficker is apprehended, what steps are taken to find the children who have been trafficked? Can the Minister tell usa little more about what is done to or for them thereafter? What is the end of the story for them?

My Lords, if children are identified, their best interests will always be the key consideration in any decision on whether to return them. We will have a full risk assessment. Unfortunately, on occasion, the children are found with the trafficker—that is part of the identification. We are taking steps to make sure that, when children come in, the visa requirements are such that we know with whom they come in and the purported relationship. Those steps will enable us better to identify the children who go missing.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, if the United States were removed from the schedule of countries covered by the Extradition Act 2003, that would hinder the fight against organised crime, including child trafficking?

My Lords, my noble friend is right. The inclusion of the United Statesin Schedule 2 means we can deal with a series of offences, children trafficking and people trafficking for sexual and other exploitation being among those where dual criminality is alleged. It is essential that all those entrusted with pursuing crime of that nature should have every tool available to them to do so expeditiously.

My Lords, have the Government studied the Italian example of social intervention, which ensures that every child who has been trafficked has proper protection, therapy and time for reflection? When will they sign the European convention on trafficking?

My Lords, with regard to the second issue, as I have said to the House before, consultations are ongoing, and a decision will be arrived at. I am not sure whether the Italian model has been looked at specifically, but I assure noble Lords that, in undertaking the work in the inter-ministerial team chaired by Paul Goggins, we are looking comprehensively at what more we can do. At the moment we believe that the UK is ahead of the game in the protection that we are able to give, but obviously we will look for any further intelligence.