New figures show 30 prosecutions were taken in the last two years in relation to the trafficking of children for the purposes of sexual exploitation.
Provisional data provided by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald shows there were 16 prosecutions in 2013 and 14 in 2014. They continued a marked increase on previous years where there had been around four prosecutions on average annually between 2009 and 2011.
The Department of Justice previously pointed out the vast majority of prosecutions are not for commercial sexual exploitation such as prostitution, but rather for child pornography, sexual assault and sexual indecency, which can involve elements of human trafficking, including recruitment.
The 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report of the US State Department said Irish figures were “unreliable” as a guide for sex trafficking as they conflated possession or creation of child pornography with trafficking in persons.
“The figures are not reflecting the reality of trafficking,” said Aibhlín O’Leary, anti-trafficking officer at the Immigrant Council of Ireland. She said that of the 48 victims of human trafficking identified in 2012, it emerged 23 were minors yet there were only 13 prosecutions in that year.
“Tackling demand for prostitution is key,” she said.
“The majority of victims of trafficking are brought into prostitution. They are sold into slavery, sold into brothels and raped. Some never escape. The ones we meet are the lucky ones —they get out.”
She called for the urgent implementation of the Sexual Offences Bill 2014, introduced last November, which proposes criminalising people who purchase sex.
The ICI also wants a trafficking tsar to be appointed to act as an independent rapporteur on government efforts. It also wants victims to be given “recovery and reflection” periods without having to co-operate with Garda investigations first and to be housed elsewhere than “unsafe” direct provision centres.
The ICI is attending a cross-border conference on trafficking in Newry today, organised by the Department of Justice and its northern counterpart.
Speaking ahead of the conference, ICI chief executive Denise Charlton said Ireland could become a “safe haven” for human trafficking gangs if our laws did not keep pace with the North.
“From June it will be illegal to pay for sex in Northern Ireland which will ruin the business model for pimps and traffickers — while similar laws are promised here no firm timeline has been set,” she said.
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