THERE is a “landmark opportunity” for MSPs to support child victims during a final debate on legislation to tackle human trafficking, according to a charity.
The Scottish Government brought forward the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill to strengthen existing criminal law against the practice and enhance the status of and support for victims.
The general principles of the legislation establish a single offence of human trafficking as well as increasing the maximum penalty for offenders to life imprisonment.
ECPAT UK - a charity working on the issues of child exploitation and child trafficking - is calling for the legislation to be “as robust as possible” by clarifying the criminal offence of slavery to ensure all forms of exploitation are covered.
MSPs backed the legislation earlier this year but, ahead of a final debate at Holyrood, the charity said it wanted the proposed provisions for a legal guardian for trafficked children to widen its scope to include all separated young people.
ECPAT UK said it supported amendments ensuring children who are trafficked by their own parents are assigned an independent guardian to advocate for them and help them recover.
The charity will hand over a petition outside the Scottish Parliament of more than 6,000 signatures which had called for measures protecting children to be included.
Chloe Setter, head of advocacy, policy and campaigns, said: “This is a landmark opportunity for MSPs to pledge their support for children, who are the most vulnerable of all to human trafficking.
“We urge them to make sure Scotland’s legislation is as strong as it can be to protect all children from exploitation and punish those who seek to abuse and enslave them.”
The Scottish Guardianship Service, delivered by Scottish Refugee Council and Aberlour Child Care Trust, gives refugee children who have been separated from their parents independent advice and advocacy.
They welcomed the legislation as placing a duty on ministers to provide guardianship.
Scottish Refugee Council chief executive John Wilkes said: “All children need to feel safe and this is especially true for young people who arrive in a foreign country separated from their parents and families.
“These young people arrive alone and are often confused and very frightened. Often they arrive in a state of trauma and shock because of the experiences they have fled.
“Having a guardian by their side and on their side makes a huge difference to their ability to recover from their experiences and to thrive as young people in Scotland.”
Sally Ann Kelly, chief executive of Aberlour Child Care Trust, said: “The Scottish Guardianship Service, enshrined in legislation for the first time, will represent a beacon of hope and support to children and young people who, having escaped the clutches of traffickers, would have nowhere else to turn.”