Joint Committee On Human Rights Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 53-59)


5 JUNE 2006

  Q53 Chairman: Good afternoon, everyone. This is the third session in our inquiry into human trafficking and our second formal evidence session. We are joined this afternoon by Nadine Finch of the Immigration Law Practitioners' Association, Stephanie Biden, a Committee Member of the Solicitors' International Human rights Group, and Poonam Joshi, who is a Gender Policy Adviser of Amnesty International UK. I understand that none of the witnesses want to make an opening statement so we can go straight to questions. Poonam, your evidence to us so far refers exclusively to the trafficking in women and girls for sexual exploitation. What are your views about trafficking of men as well as women and children for non-sexual purposes?

  Ms Joshi: The first point I would like to make is the paucity of statistics and the problems in data collection which means that there are very limited statistics about those other groups of victims. The barriers therefore to that process of identification are, first, the lack of identification for the referral mechanism, secondly, the lack of support and protection measures that would enable victims to disclose, and, thirdly, the lack of centralised data collection by agencies. Having said that, we have looked at what figures there are out there, particularly around men and boys and also domestic servitude. It is difficult to get comparative statistics but the ILO have estimated that in developed countries the predominant form of forced labour is for commercial sexual exploitation and they estimate that 98% of those in sexual exploitation are women, so it would appear that trafficking for forced prostitution is the dominant form in the UK. Having said that, if you look, for example, at forced labour, there is a very good report prepared by the TUC and the Centre for Migration Studies. They looked at forced labour across four key sectors—construction, agriculture, contract cleaning and the care sector, and certainly as far as construction is concerned it is exclusively male. In agriculture it is a mixture of men and women. The evidence that they had was not statistical; it was anecdotal, but there appear to be quite pervasive levels of exploitation in terms of debt bondage, coercion, threats, low payment, neglect of health and safety standards, but it is difficult to estimate what those figures are. In terms of domestic servitude, once again it is predominantly women, and Kalayaan, one of these organisations, said that in 2005 over 17,000 people were granted visas as domestic workers. The current situation is that those workers can change employers but the Government is planning on removing the right for workers to change employers and the expectation is that the abuse and exploitation will increase. Kalayaan did a sample study of 114 workers that came to them over a two-month period and 75% of those reported psychological abuse and 34% reported physical abuse, so even with the protection they have of being able to change employers the abuse is there. Finally, with regard to children, it is not an area that we have worked on but there is certainly anecdotal evidence of the cases that come to us across issues like benefit fraud, witchcraft, child sexual exploitation and domestic servitude. In terms of sexual exploitation of boys, I tried to see if there were any statistics on that and I could not find any specifically around trafficking but I thought an interesting statistic was one from a report by the Thomas Coram Research Institute which looked at the numbers of boys and girls in prostitution and they found in terms of children under the age of 16, and they did a survey of 48 agencies, that there were 55 boys in prostitution and 267 girls, and there was a similar ratio for the over-16s. I cannot say first hand if that is a similar ratio in terms of trafficking but that appears to be the profile, certainly with regard to sexual exploitation: we are looking predominantly at women and girls. In terms of, say, child sexual abuse in a benefit fraud or domestic servitude context, I am afraid we do not know.

  Q54  Chairman: Nadine, you recognise in your evidence to us so far that many people are trafficked for reasons other than sexual exploitation.

  Ms Finch: Yes.

  Q55  Chairman: In your experience in advising victims do you think that such instances are as serious or as widespread as sexual trafficking, bearing in mind what Poonam has just said? You also tell us that an increasing number of children are trafficked for domestic slavery, and I saw that there was a big exposé in the Sunday Telegraph yesterday. Part of the problem, I think, is that there seems to be quite a paucity of evidence to support what appears to be an underlying view of what is going on. Perhaps you could let us know if there is evidence to support such a claim and give us your comments on the wider issue of non-sexual trafficking.

  Ms Finch: As Poonam said, there are no statistics being collected. It would be a good thing, I think, if the Department for Education and Skills did collect some statistics because many of the cases which I do come from social services when we are talking about children. I will give you an example of what happens to a child. One of my clients was a very young girl from Africa who was brought in about the age of eight or nine, we think. She was kept in a garage in Greenwich and given very poor clothing, no shoes. She never left the house. She did all the chores and looked after the kids. She is not unusual. She got rescued because a neighbour complained to social services who went in with the police. An increasing number of children are coming to the attention of local authorities, not just in London. There was a good ECPAT report a few years ago about social services in London but I was part of a research project looking at unaccompanied minors and we sent researchers throughout England and Scotland and we found similar stories in Newcastle, Nottingham and Glasgow of very young children suddenly appearing in people's houses. When you represent these people and you talk to the community it appears that what is happening is that some of these communities are used to having servants in their home countries but when they are here they cannot afford a nanny, they cannot afford a housekeeper. Therefore, they are prey to traffickers who say, "We can arrange somebody". Sometimes these children are actually being sold by their own parents or close colleagues of their parents into this trafficking. It is anecdotal but also Garden Court Chambers, my chambers, had a conference before Easter on trafficking and again we had social workers, police officers and lawyers from around England, Scotland and Wales, and they reported very similar things: very small children cropping up in households as domestic slaves—and they are slaves; there is no payment. They are sometimes told they will go to school. They do not go to school. It is a very serious form of abuse because they are completely deprived of everything, even things like food, bedding, clothing, any kind of nurturing that children should have. Also, when they get older they are quite often sexually exploited and raped. I think it is a very serious form of abuse and I think we are only scratching the surface at the moment. Also, the Vietnamese community has a lot of children coming in. A lot of local authorities in the south east of London, places like Lewisham and Greenwich, have suddenly noticed a lot of young Vietnamese.

  Q56  Chairman: So we do not know the scale of it?

  Ms Finch: No.

  Q57  Chairman: What parts of the world are primarily affected in terms of sources for children?

  Ms Finch: Vietnamese and some Chinese. The Chinese are probably coming in more for exploitation in restaurants and that is a similar phenomenon in the States. The other children are coming in mainly from West Africa, partly because there is a historical community practice where you do send children to work in other people's houses in return for education. Of course, that might work locally but when you make it international, of course, there is no control at all by the families so these children are sent over, they have no education, they are very badly treated, and quite often when you represent them they have to understand in the end that they were sold by their parents, which is a very difficult thing for them to ever comprehend.

  Q58  Lord Judd: From the submissions from all your organisations it does seem that you feel the current legislative framework lacks a human rights approach. It would be helpful for the committee if you could tell us exactly how it fails to take account of the existing human rights norms and principles established through the European Convention and other relevant international instruments to which the UK is a party. It would also be helpful, I think, if you could tell us how things could be improved in this respect.

  Ms Joshi: A number of the key human rights Conventions mainly focus on the prohibition of slavery and trafficking, so ECHR and in terms of political rights UDHR, but, using the concept of due diligence, states have obligations to not simply prohibit or criminalise those offences but also prevent them from taking place and make sure there is adequate protection of victims and that those victims have access to remedies and redress and protection from further harm. A major concern shared by all of us is that the current asylum and immigration context is at odds with the Government having a victim-centred approach as part of its anti-trafficking strategies. Examples of that would be, looking at immigration, criminalisation of illegal entrants combined with an overriding emphasis on removals of illegal entrants, restrictions on access to health care, public funds, assistance, support and accommodation, so denials of the right to health and denials of freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment and bodily integrity. There are prohibitions on training, education and work, which means that once victims are identified they do not have the means to empower themselves in future to resist further re-trafficking. Those are some of the examples. In terms of the asylum and immigration framework, because of the focus on removal and the uncertain status of the immigrants, immigration services have the power to detain and remove those victims, which means that the police or NGOs normally have a very short period in which to identify trafficked people and inform them of their rights. A key example of their rights being violated is the example we gave of the Birmingham raids. We suspect that many victims are not able to access even basic information on what their rights might be in terms of immediate support and protection and health care in terms of their right to claim asylum and in terms of their right to legal assistance or to compensation. What we would advocate as a solution would be if the Government were to sign the Council of Europe Convention, because the provision of reflection periods and residence permits would to a great degree address those issues. Longer term ourselves and my colleagues here would like the UK Government to radically review its immigration and asylum policies but I think it is unlikely that that is going to happen in the short term, and the provision of residence permits and reflection periods would give those victims regularisation of their immigration status which means they cannot be removed from the UK, would give them access to health care to be able to recover and access to support and protection, which would enable them to move away from the traffickers and in time, hopefully, disclose information, intelligence and evidence to the law enforcement authorities which in time would also help to disrupt further trafficking. The other point I would like to make on that is where the Council of Europe Convention is extremely important is that it covers all groups of trafficking victims, so although the Government might have ad hoc measures, for example, the POPPY Project, where it can give those kinds of protection on a case-by-case basis, that fails to address the extreme vulnerability and needs of the vast majority of trafficking victims.

  Ms Finch: On a more practical level it is important to realise that the victims are not treated as victims from the beginning. Instead of thinking of them as victims of a great crime they are treated as illegal entrants basically or overstays or whatever they are deemed to be, and there are a number of things which count against them ever even being able to articulate what has happened to them. You may know that we have these juxtaposed controls with immigration officers posted in Belgium and France. No statistics are kept on who is turned back there, whether unaccompanied minors or people who might be being trafficked, so there may well be trafficking victims coming in and being turned back at some railway station in France who are then being brought in through somewhere in Holland. When they get here, if they come from a so-called first-stay country they may just be turned around very quickly and sent away again. They may have their claim for asylum, if they make one, deemed to be clearly unfounded. Again, they have no rights of appeal; they are turned around very quickly in the fast track procedure which may last as little as five days if they are somewhere like Harmsworth. The importance of those turnarounds is that most victims of trafficking find it incredibly difficult to articulate what has happened to them. It is shameful, it is horrifying. Many Vietnamese and Chinese victims never articulate fully, the whole cultural shame of what has happened to them is so great. Even with a nationality which is more able to articulate in that way, they find it incredibly difficult to say what has happened to them, so asking them to say anything when they first arrive or even within five days is probably an impossibility. If, as Poonam said, they were treated as victims and given some support they might well be able to articulate what has happened to them but until there is a break between the Immigration and Nationality Directorate labelling them as illegals I do not think we will get very much further in terms of offering them protection or eventually prosecuting. The number of prosecutions is minimal.

  Miss Biden: Could I add to that some information about compensation?

  Q59  Chairman: We will come on to issues of compensation later on.

  Miss Biden: It is just that there are international human rights obligations to make that available.

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