'Significant gaps' in Ireland's ability to identify child trafficking victims

'Significant gaps' in Ireland's ability to identify child trafficking victims

'When you consider that over the course of the last two years there has not been a single identified child trafficking victim in Ireland — not one — it is clear there are significant gaps in our identification process.'

There are "significant gaps" in Ireland's ability to identify victims of child trafficking, with no cases established in the last two years, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

During pre-legislative scrutiny of the Criminal Justice (Sexual Offences and Human Trafficking) Bill 2022, the committee was told by a member of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC), Dr Salome Mbugua, that the system has "ground to a halt".

“When you consider that over the course of the last two years there has not been a single identified child trafficking victim in Ireland — not one — it is clear there are significant gaps in our identification process."

Dr Mbugua said the current "elaborate" interplay between the three systems — international protection, human trafficking and general child protection — has caused the identification of child victims to "grind to a standstill".

 On the proposed bill, Dr Mbugua said the law should include specific legislative protection for people who are trafficked and commit crimes as a direct consequence of their trafficking.

Fear of arrest

Isabel Toolan of the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland (MRCI), said migrants who are trafficked into Ireland are staying with their captors for fear of being deported or arrested.

She said just 19 trafficking for labour cases were identified in 2021 from a total of 44 trafficking cases. She said early victim identification is "a crucial step in stopping human trafficking" but that victims are reluctant to come forward.

"We [are] aware of a number of cases where a person is worrying about coming forward such as a man we will call Mustafa — not his real name — who was reluctant to come forward for identification. He endured appalling conditions for over two years before finally fleeing his trafficker. He stayed because he needed to make money for his young family — meagre as his pay was — and because he feared there was no alternative to his trafficking situation than being left destitute on the street, undocumented, penniless and homeless."

Ms Toolan said the bill "does nothing to address this fear".

"This lack of entitlement for victims is very concerning — the bill must explicitly include the right to housing and supports. Traffickers prey on threats of denunciation to the gardaí. In almost every case where the person is undocumented, we hear the same thing — I am afraid to come forward because I will be deported or arrested."

Exploitation

Meanwhile, IHREC will take part in a round-table discussion on Thursday in Dublin with the Green Town Project from the University of Limerick and ICON (Inner City Organisations Network) in Dublin, to explore the criminal exploitation and trafficking of children here. The event is being co-hosted by MEP Maria Walsh and MECPATHS, which works with the hospitality industry to prevent child trafficking.

Networks and Communications Manager of MECPATHS, JP O’Sullivan, said ICON works with people every day whose children are caught up in criminal exploitation and are in debt bondage.

He said: “We are having this meeting on Thursday to open up the conversation. It is timely as we are looking at an EU directive that is being refreshed.”

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