Children working in nail bars were among 11 potential victims of human trafficking identified in a major police Scotland-wide crackdown targeting hundreds of premises across Scotland.
The six young potential child victims under the age of 18 who were employed in the nail bars were displaying signs of trafficking, police said. They are now being offered counselling and support.
Around 500 police officers from every division in the country took part in the first nationwide day of action of its kind, visiting more than 200 premises, including car washes, farms, beaches, and nail bars.
The police operation, held on Anti-Slavery Day, was supported by 50 colleagues from HM Revenue and Customs, Immigration Enforcement, British Transport Police and the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority.
One person has been detained for human trafficking offences and two others arrested for immigration offences by Police Scotland, with an additional 12 arrested by Immigration Enforcement.
Known as “the dark economy” human trafficking is a highly lucrative hidden economy covering areas ranging from forced agricultural labour, prostitution, running cannabis farms to domestic servitude, with victims often moved on from location to location.
Police say the overall scale of the problem is unclear but last year 145 potential victims were identified, a 31 per cent increase on 2014.
Police Scotland has appealed to the public to come forward if they suspect someone is being exploited.
Those in charge of Tuesday’s operation said they were determined to crack down on criminal gangs dealing in people to make profits.
Detective Chief Inspector Stuart Houston, of Police Scotland, said: “Human trafficking is a sickening trade in vulnerable people. It is happening now, in Scotland, to adults and children.
“Victims are being trafficked into and around the country, usually for the purposes of labour or sexual exploitation. Police Scotland is committed to targeting those who seek to profit from exploiting others.”
Last week, new Scottish Government guidelines were launched as part of the first human trafficking strategy.
But last night Jenny Marra, Labour MSP for North East Scotland, who brought forward the Human Trafficking Member’s Bill leading to the Human Trafficking (Scotland) Act 2015, said the Scottish Government’s strategy needed to be “toughened up” with public awareness campaigns across television and social media.
She said: “I don’t think the strategy is strong enough. More needs to be done to raise awareness in our communities so the public are equipped to spot the signs and what to do about it.
“We also need to get all front-line staff such as nurses, paramedics and firefighters, people who go into private homes as well as commercial properties, trained up.
“Human trafficking has no borders so there is no reason this could not be done on a UK-wide basis rather than Scotland funding all of it.”
Gary Smith, GMB Scotland secretary, also said more needed to be done to raise awareness and vigilance across workplaces and communities.
“But like all crimes we need strong legislation and enforcement to track down and punish human trafficking perpetrators. So we need to ensure Police Scotland are sufficiently equipped and resourced.
“Trade unions are long-standing campaigners in the fight against modern slavery, helping drive reforms such as the Gangmasters Act, which created the Gangmasters Licensing Authority, after the death of 23 Chinese cockle pickers at Morecambe Bay in 2003.”