Combatting Human Trafficking in UK

by Sister Mary Howard

mary_howardThe bi-centenary of the Anti-Slave Trade Act in the UK, celebrated in 2007, was used to help highlight the need to abolish all forms of slavery.

Concerned people are asking the question: "What about the trade in human traffic today? What is being done at both Government and grassroots level to halt this modern-day slavery?"

In January 2006, the Home Office and the Scottish Executive issued a joint publication ‘Tackling Human Trafficking – Consultation on Proposals for a UK Action Plan’. A one-day workshop, entitled ‘Not for Sale’ was organised by an ecumenical group called CHASTE (Churches Alert to Sex Trafficking across Europe) to discuss a response to this important Consultation. It was clear that co-operation, collaboration and networking between various bodies are essential for success in eliminating this modern-day slavery.

The UK Conference of Religious (COR) set up an Inter-Congregational Working Party to research the problem and to see what could be done to alleviate this great abuse of human rights. Within the Working Party they established three small highly-focussed groups:

trafficking_august_02(i) A Hands-on Group to set up a new company, limited by guarantee, and a new Inter-Congregational Charity, which is focussed on helping women, children and young men to escape sex-trafficking. Their work is associated with opening safe houses for the victims and they will work closely with the police and immigration authorities.
(ii) A Fund-raising Group.
(iii) An Awareness-Raising and Campaign Group.

Because of their vulnerability and the trauma they have experienced, the victims require sufficient time in which to assess their situation and future. The priority is the provision of safe houses, where the women can begin to live a new life, free from abuse and violence. There they can receive counselling and necessary professional help, including immigration advice. One such safe house opened on 15 August 2006 with plans for two more by the end of the year.

Houses have been donated, but with the need to provide running costs for them for the next three years, fund-raising has been the most challenging aspect of the initiative. Applications have been made to the National Lottery, Trusts, Local Councils, The Home Office, Churches, etc. The Government has also been asked for a slice of the confiscated assets of the traffickers, though we cannot hold our breath while the legislation that would require is enacted.

A new Charity called ‘The Medaille Trust’ limited by guarantee has been formed. The St. John of God Care Services have taken responsibility for recruitment, training and management of staff, the care standards and the maintenance of the properties.

The Awareness-Raising group, based with the Chigwell Justice and Peace Group (Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary), has been very active. They aim to:

  • Raise awareness among the general public.
  • Address the factors creating demand.
  • Campaign for Government recognition of responsibility towards survivors in terms of safe accommodation, specialist support and finance.
  • Urge the Government to sign up to the Council of Europe Convention and commit to these measures.
  • Highlight root causes, in particular the relationship between poverty, injustice related to gender, denial of human rights and trafficking.

We are living in an era when no single group can solve the problems of our time. The Conference of Religious, in initiating this collaborative ministry, is following a great tradition in which religious congregations throughout the ages have responded to the most marginalized people of their day. The programme is evolving rapidly and it is hoped that through the global nature of the Religious Network, help can be brought to the most vulnerable.