Extracts from a talk on Human Trafficking: Blackburn Cathedral May 2012 – David Alton
Trafficking in human beings, particularly in women and children, is a modern day slave trade. Most people assume that the slave trade was long since consigned to the dustbin of history by William Wilberforce.
In reality the trade in human beings is a rapidly growing scourge hat affects countries and families on every continent.
Those trafficked may be forced into prostitution or to work as domestics, as labourers, or market traders and in a variety of other jobs. Recent research suggests that, at an absolute minimum, hundreds of women and children are being trafficked into the UK each year.
Trafficking is a form of coercion. Victims of trafficking are unable to cut all ties with those who brought them here.
Victims come from Albania, Kosovo, Russia, Lithuania, Romania, Bulgaria, China, South East Asia and West Africa.
Some may be forcibly abducted and brought into the UK, but many victims put themselves or their children in the hands of traffickers to escape poverty and discrimination. Promised well paid jobs, education, marriage, many believe they will be able to send money back to their families. In reality they often end up exploited as sex slaves in London and our other major cities.
Escape for these victims is impossible. The traffickers often pay for the cost of their victims’ passage into the UK.
Travel costs are then inflated by charges for food, accommodation, and interest on money borrowed from their traffickers. Burdened with debt and unable to secure legitimate employment, the victims are extremely vulnerable.
Should they refuse to submit to the traffickers’ demands or attempt to escape, they can have their passports confiscated or are subject to intimidation, violence, torture or rape. Traffickers also make threats of violence against friends and family as a way of ensuring their victims keep working and do not try to escape.
Girls from countries where trafficking is common arrive into the UK unaccompanied. Told to apply for asylum at the port of entry, the girls are placed into the care of the local social services department. These girls subsequently disappear when their traffickers make contact with them and are never seen by the authorities or their families again. Since 1995, 66 children who arrived unaccompanied in the UK have gone missing from West Sussex Social Services alone, over a two year period.
The Head of London’s Vice Squad complained that his officers are unable to tackle this scourge because of a lack of guidance and legislation. In the unlikely event of traffickers being caught, they often receive prison sentences of no more than two years.
The popular myth is that slavery is a thing of the past, but more people are trafficked today than were enslaved in the entire history of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
The UN believes it is the second largest criminal activity in the world, second only to drug smuggling; that it nets $36 billion a year to the traffickers; and that 100,000 Modern Day Slaves are trafficked around the EU each year.
Trafficking is about deception. It is about misleading and dishonest information. Trafficking is about people believing they are going somewhere to do something entirely different to what they are asked to do. Or the children who are pawns in debt bondage whose alcoholic or drug dependent parents get a lump sum payment from traffickers to take their children to London or other cities to ‘educate them’Then there is sex trafficking. Girls mostly, with threats of violence to themselves and their families if they try to escape or keep money from their ‘clients’ (2,200 brothels in London alone).
The number of rescued victims in the Government’s victim support scheme run by the Salvation Army gives you some indication of the scale and range: 246 in the last 6 months alone, just under half of them men.
Of the 15,000 domestic workers coming to Britain a year, approaching 700 are likely to have been abused in some way. Many of these would have been trafficked, many working for diplomatic staff and beyond the reach of the law.
Successful convictions are appallingly few: no more than two dozen a year, and as few as 16 in 2010.
Members of Parliamentary need to keep calling Government to account, and keeping trafficking on the agenda.
Victims need small sums to get them up on their feet, and survive.
The Human Trafficking Foundation, which chaired by Anthony Steen wants to establish a small Victim Fund which can – without undue bureaucracy – pay for cookers, clothes, text books and the like.
All of us can do something practical. In particular we can help raise awareness on Anti-Slavery Day (October 18th).
We can’t help everyone, but we can help someone. The man or woman who saves a single life saves the world.