Earlier this month the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) (Amendment) Bill 2013 was passed through both Houses of the Oireachtas. This Bill was designed to comply with EU Directive 2011/36/EU and criminalises trafficking for the purposes of forced begging and criminal activities. Trafficking for sexual exploitation, labour exploitation and the removal of organs has already been criminalised. The Bill also caters for child victims as it increases the maximum age at which video evidence may be admissible in court from 14 to 18.
In a press release from the Department of Justice, Minister Alan Shatter said that human trafficking is an ‘appalling crime, a serious abuse of human rights and an affront to the dignity of a person.’
The Turn off the Red Light Campaign, a coalition of organisations which campaigns for the end of prostitution and trafficking in Ireland notes that 75% of cases involving human trafficking involve sexual exploitation. The campaign notes that while there were 37 investigations into trafficking for sexual exploitation over the past 16 months, this is probably only a fraction of the actual number of victims trafficked for these purposes. They propose that Ireland adopt a model similar to that of Sweden, where it is a criminal offence to buy sex. They believe that this will undermine demand for trafficking and prostitution, which will have a more direct impact on the €180 million per year sex trade industry.
The Immigrant Council of Ireland reports harrowing stories which detail the systemic abuse that is inflicted on victims of trafficking in Ireland. Deception is a common theme in these reports – many women and girls are encouraged to travel to Ireland to seek opportunities and are then forced into the sex trade upon arrival. The Council, which is a founding member of the Turn off the Red Light Campaign, calls for strong legal steps to be taken to ensure that Ireland is not a ‘soft target’ for traffickers. Ireland has previously been criticised by OSCE and the US Department of State for falling short in this area.
Although this Bill was necessary in order to bring Irish law in line with EU obligations, it may have a muted impact on the elimination of trafficking in Ireland, considering that the majority of reported cases don’t deal with forced begging and criminal activities. The Bill is welcome, but will probably not have the strong preventative effect on trafficking that anti-trafficking organisations believe is necessary.