The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) has told an Oireachtas committee that there are “significant gaps” in the State’s processes for identifying children who are victims of trafficking.
The commission highlighted the fact that no child victims of trafficking had been identified by the State in the past two years.
IHREC, which is the State’s National Rapporteur on Human Trafficking, has also published a submission on part 3 of the general scheme of the Criminal Justice (Sexual Offences and Human Trafficking) Bill 2022.
The submission makes 32 recommendations – including an amendment to the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008 to include a specific statutory defence for victims of trafficking, where they have committed crimes as a direct consequence of them being trafficked.
IHREC also recommends that victims of trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation be afforded the same protections as victims of rape and other sexual-assault offences in criminal trials.
The commission notes that there are no express provisions in the bill to provide for gender-specific services to victims, and says that the proposed legislation should contain access to gender-specific shelter.
Addressing the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, commission member Dr Salome Mbugua said that the “elaborate” interplay between three systems – international protection, human trafficking and general child protection – had caused the identification of child victims to “grind to a standstill”.
Chief Commissioner Sinéad Gibney called for a separate child-trafficking identification mechanism.
“We cannot begin to protect these vulnerable children if we cannot identify them,” she said.
IHREC’s submission includes a recommendation that the bill include “express provisions” for the identification of victims who lack capacity, such as children or adults with diminished capacity.
It also calls for a child-specific identification process to be included in the bill, taking into account previous findings from reports into human trafficking.
IHREC also recommends the introduction of a separate stand-alone offence for holding a person in slavery, servitude, or forced or compulsory labour.
It also calls for the right to separate legal representation for victims under section 4A of the Criminal Law (Rape) Act 1981, (in circumstances where an application is made to question a victim about other sexual experiences) should be extended to victims of sexual exploitation offences committed under section 4 of the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008.