Goodwill to tackle child trafficking but action needed

A report into trafficking shows that despite some good work, Ireland lags behind many in protecting children, write Dr Deirdre Horgan and Dr Shirley Martin

TRAFFICKING in human beings is recognised as a growing phenomenon throughout the world, but because of its often clandestine and fluid nature, it is difficult to quantify and make more visible. Nevertheless, it is estimated there are 1.2m children trafficked globally.

Ireland has been recognised, by the US department of state, as both a transit and a destination country for child trafficking. This is a problem not confined to Dublin or migrant children. It occurs nationwide and there is an emerging group of Irish children who are being trafficked within Ireland.

Yesterday we launched Safe Care for Trafficked Children in Ireland: Developing a Protective Environment, commissioned by the Children’s Rights Alliance and funded by The Body Shop Ireland and ECPAT International global campaign Stop Sex Trafficking of Children and Young People. The report is informed by interviews carried out by the research team at UCC, with professionals and agencies working in child care, education and advocacy.

Internationally, children are trafficked for many reasons, including forced labour and criminality, domestic servitude, prostitution, child pornography, illegal adoption, forced marriage, and welfare fraud. The EU directive on human trafficking recognises children are at greater risk than adults of being trafficked.

International traffickers are sophisticated in identifying and exploiting gaps in immigration and care. The trauma and fear experienced by trafficked children can impact negatively on their engagement with agencies and can lead them to distrust the authorities. Consequently, addressing trafficking requires knowledge, resources, and co-operation of statutory and non-governmental organisations at national and international levels.

So, what does the report tell us? The establishment of the anti-human trafficking unit within the Department of Justice and Equality in 2008 was an important step in recognising and responding to the issue of child trafficking.

UP UNTIL 2010, the HSE placed these children in hostel accommodation, which was nationally and internationally criticised as wholly inappropriate and one of the main reasons why high numbers of children were going missing from care. Now, all unaccompanied minors entering Ireland are accommodated in assessment centres by the HSE, before being placed with foster families. This has provided a more secure and protective environment, with numbers of missing children reduced considerably over the last two years.

Given that care placements for trafficked children need to be particularly specialised, foster carers, teachers, and social workers require ongoing supports as well as training on the specific needs of these children. A more systematic, widespread, and consistent form of training on trafficking is required to address identification, care needs of trafficked children, safety and security issues, cultural competence, and anti-racist practice. Moreover, the training provided is largely only available in Dublin, leaving professionals based outside the capital without the necessary supports, knowledge, and skills to adequately support these vulnerable children.

The report identifies a lack of follow-up on children in cases where they are reunited with family members. The HSE has conceded that these need to be refined. For example, while DNA testing has been a welcome development, it fails to adequately recognise families beyond close blood ties. Some research respondents remain concerned that not all family placements have been genuine.

A more comprehensive approach is needed. HSE South, based in Cork, has done some good work in this regard, translating their concern into immediate action. Such was their concern that they independently initiated a process of follow up and monitoring of families, where they work in co-operation with schools and public health nurses in order to better monitor the welfare of trafficked children or those at risk. This process should be rolled out nationwide.

The report points to the need for a robust legislative framework to respond to this complex and challenging issue. Of critical concern is the fact that Ireland has yet to ratify the optional protocol to the UN convention on the rights of the child on the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography.

Ireland and the Czech Republic are in an embarrassing minority of two European states that have failed to ratify this important international protocol.

There is good will, good intentions, and good work in train in Ireland, but more needs to be done to fully tackle child trafficking and respond comprehensively to this complex and challenging issue. This report will hopefully play its role in moving towards a wholesale, nationwide solution to eradicate this unspeakable crime against children.

* Dr Deirdre Horgan and Dr Shirley Martin, School of Applied Social Studies, University College Cork

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