A NEW law to tackle human trafficking, with better protection for its victims and tougher penalties for those convicted of the crime, has been backed by the Scottish Parliament.
Holyrood supported the general principles of the legislation, which creates a specific offence of human trafficking for the first time and increases the maximum penalty for offenders to life imprisonment.
The Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill was brought forward by the Scottish Government to strengthen existing criminal law against the practice and enhance the status of victims and boost support for them.
Under the proposals, prosecutors will be given guidance from the Lord Advocate setting out a presumption against prosecution of vicitms in cases where trafficked people have been forced into committing crime.
The legislation will also commit Scottish ministers to publishing and updating a human trafficking strategy.
Justice secretary Michael Matheson said: “We intend to make Scotland a hostile place for traffickers and those who exploit others, and to better identify and support potential and confirmed victims.”
We intend to make Scotland a hostile place for traffickersMichael Matheson
He went on: “Specifically, the bill includes provisions to clarify and strengthen the law against traffickers and those who exploit individuals, introduce new measures to disrupt and prevent trafficking and those who exploit others, and ensure the rights of trafficked victims to access support and assistance.”
Labour MSP Jenny Marra, whose Human Trafficking Members’ Bill was adopted by the Scottish Government as the basis for its own bill, welcomed the package of measures.
Ms Marra said: “I thank the Scottish Government for adopting Labour’s bill on trafficking in Scotland. I believe it is the first human rights bill to be heard by this parliament and I hope we can get provisions right for children in this bill.”
However, Ms Marra expressed concern that there are no specific provisions for a legal guardian for trafficked children, despite Mr Matheson’s assurance that their welfare will be covered in existing children’s legislation.
She added: “For a child that has been trafficked into this country and abused, should we not be giving them the legal protection of a trained person with the knowledge to safeguard their rights throughout the whole legal and administrative process to help their recovery?”
Churches and Christian organisations have said the bill offers a “golden opportunity’’to make the purchase of sex illegal in a bid to reduce exploitation.
But others, such as Amnesty, argue that conflating human trafficking and prostitution within one piece of legislation will not do justice to either issue.
Mr Matheson said: “I am conscious that this an emotive and complex area; therefore I have committed to meeting stakeholders on both sides of the argument.”