Government must do more to tackle human trafficking

Written by Myriam Cherti and Jenny Pennington are researchers at IPPR on 19 October 2012 in Diary
In light of a government report on human trafficking published yesterday, should more be done to tackle this problem?

Like many victims of trafficking, Gigi had high hopes for the future when she was a child. “I wanted to do well in school, make my parents proud and get a good job,” she says. But her life was changed when, aged 12 her parents were killed. This tragic event heightened her vulnerability and a stranger claiming to be a relative took her into domestic servitude and trafficked her to London.

A report published yesterday by the government on human trafficking found that more than 900 potential victims of human trafficking, more than 200 of whom are children, were referred to the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) last year. These figures represent a rise of a third. The report shows that traffickers from countries including China, Nigeria, Vietnam, Slovakia and Romania are exploiting the victims for sex, labour and domestic slavery.

Gigi is one of 40 people interviewed as part of an international project that IPPR is leading on people who had been trafficked from Nigeria to the UK. “I was kept locked in the house for six years,” she told us. “I never left the house from 2003 until 2009. I had to look after their children all day and also at night. I had to prepare their food every two hours and make sure that their nappies were dry. I had to sleep on the floor in the children’s room. I hardly slept and was never given enough food.” Physical and psychological abuse from her trafficker was a daily reality.

The UK response to trafficking has come a long way from the days of ad hoc police raids and the victim support exclusively through charitably-funded voluntary sector agencies. Last year’s human trafficking strategy is a step forward but the UK’s response to human trafficking remains weak in at least three areas. 

IPPR research shows, that the government’s immigration-led approach makes victim identification and protection less effective. While border control may stop people coming into an exploitative position in the UK, it does little to address the prior exploitation or abuse that people have faced in their country of origin. Nor does it address the demand in the UK for exploitative labour that may be filled by other vulnerable people already in the UK.

There is also an absence of a coordinated approach between different government departments to tackling human trafficking. The decision to scrap the domestic worker’s visa and replace it with a route entitling domestic workers to stay for just six months without the right to change employers, greatly increases the risk of trafficking and exploitation.

Finally, prosecution and prevention strategies that focus on organised crime-rings are not always suited to detecting and addressing trafficking from countries like Nigeria, where arrangements are often made to traffic people at a household level. Organised criminal networks are well-developed and play a role in many trafficking cases but policy responses designed exclusively to crack organised criminal networks will miss these cases.

The UK’s response to trafficking must extend beyond the border – in both directions, domestically and internationally – so that it becomes a genuine end-to-end solution to the problem, rather than simply displacing it.

Myriam Cherti and Jenny Pennington are researchers at IPPR

Tags: Government, Human Trafficking, Ippr, Report

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