What is people trafficking and what impact does it have on the UK?
In the 21st Century it is easy to assume that slavery no longer exists in the, so-called, civilised countries of the West. However, people trafficking – where human beings are bought, sold or exploited for profit – is a crime by which the majority of countries are affected to some extent.
What is People Trafficking?
The United Nations officially categorises people trafficking as a form of slavery.
People or human trafficking is generally understood to be an organised crime. Definitions vary but the United Nations describes it as the act of transporting, receiving or harbouring a person by force, coercion or other methods in order to exploit them. In other words, the crime of people trafficking covers, not only the act of physically transporting a person across borders, but also any other involvement with the victim.
Theoretically the victims of people trafficking can be divided into two broad categories – those who pay criminals to take them to another country to start a new life and those who are forced or coerced into going to another country where they are then exploited. However, the distinction between these two categories is rarely clearly defined. Many victims may believe that they are paying their traffickers to transport them to a country where a decent job awaits only to find that the job turns out to be, at best, non-existent or, at worst, a form of slavery or forced labour.
People Trafficking and the UK
Because of the inevitable secrecy surrounding the victims of human trafficking – many of whom may be too frightened or ashamed to seek help – it is difficult for the authorities to get a clear picture of the numbers involved.
Several police operations have been launched in recent years to tackle the problem of human trafficking. All police forces in the UK and in the Republic of Ireland have been involved in these operations in collaboration with a specialist Human Trafficking unit based in Sheffield and the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA).
The purpose of these operations is to rescue victims of trafficking and to bring to justice those who commit human trafficking offences. The main focus of the operations has often been human trafficking relating to the sexual exploitation of women but the operations are also intended to increase knowledge and understanding of people trafficking involving forced labour and the trafficking of children.
People Trafficking and Woman
Women are far more likely to be victims of people trafficking than men. Many victims who believe that they are being brought to the UK to take up a legitimate job find, upon their arrival, that they are forced into prostitution.
Many trafficked women come from Eastern Europe, as well as Africa, the Far East and South America. Most victims are uneducated and aged between 18 and 24. They are controlled by criminal gangs, and women may be bought and sold more than once by different gangs. Victims of trafficking can be found throughout the UK – not just in the main urban areas.
An additional problem for the traumatised victims of human trafficking is that, those who are rescued from their traffickers, often then face deportation from the UK. Once returned to their own countries they are likely to be stigmatised and ostracised because of their experiences.
People Trafficking and Children
The UN believes that about 1.2 million children are trafficked around the world each year and that they represent half of all trafficking victims. Most of these are trafficked to provide cheap or slave labour or sexual services. Naturally, protecting children who have been trafficked into the UK for any reason is a prime concern of the authorities. Under new law immigration officials have a specific duty to protect the interests of child victims of trafficking.
People Trafficking and UK Law
The proposed new immigration laws contained in the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill currently being debated by the UK parliament, include specific provisions to protect child victims of trafficking. Until recently human trafficking was not specifically addressed in UK law however it is now a serious crime to traffic a human being into the UK for any purpose.