THE Scottish justice system is failing to protect child victims of human trafficking, experts have warned.
A follow-up report from a landmark inquiry led by Baroness Helena Kennedy has been looking at the issue and will report next month.
An estimated 30 teenagers a year who have been smuggled into Scotland to work as slaves in cannabis factories enter the criminal justice system.
They are typically 15, 16 and 17-year-olds from northern Vietnam, who enter the UK in the backs of lorries and are sent to work in townhouses which have been gutted, fitted with complex heating systems and filled with thousands of pounds worth of cannabis plants.
Graham O’Neill, who managed the Baroness Kennedy inquiry for the Equality and Human Rights Commission (ECHR), said these children are believed to be forced to live in the townhouses, in extreme temperatures, for six months or more, for little or no reward.
Concerns about the criminalising of human trafficking victims were raised in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday.
MSP Jenny Marra said: “People would be shocked if I were to tell them that there are young people, who have been convicted of drug offences, who we believe have been trafficked into this country to work on drug farms, incarcerated in our prisons tonight.
“Young people are being incarcerated in Scotland who have been convicted of crimes as a result of coercion and deception by others.
“Such human rights abuses are taking place in Scotland under our very noses, and those youngsters are sitting in our prisons tonight.”
Ms Marra believes that a change to legislation is needed.
Snapshot figures from November indicated up to ten young people, who had been trafficked to Scotland, were convicted, or were on remand for suspected drugs offences.
Mr O’Neill said this was due to a lack of training and understanding in both the police, and particularly, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS).
“The biggest problem is the Crown Office,” he said. “There continues to be low awareness of human trafficking or trafficking indicators across the Crown Office.
“We identified this as an issue in the ECHR report into human trafficking and I think this is an area where there needs to be rapid improvement, as the non-identification of victims in cannabis farms illustrates.”
Klara Skrivankova, trafficking programme co-ordinator at Anti-Slavery International, part of the monitoring group, added: “We are not seeing traffickers brought to justice – that is a major issue. Scotland has an appalling record in terms of prosecuting traffickers.”
A Crown Office spokesman said: “Since the report, COPFS has introduced a network of specialist human trafficking prosecutors, issued detailed guidance to prosecutors and introduced a system whereby a senior advocate depute with responsibility for human trafficking is involved in all cases where the accused is potentially a victim.”