The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, has spoken out on the issue of sex trafficking in the EU, criticising the Government for opting out of an EU Directive on the issue.
"According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) there are at least 2.45 million people in forced labour globally as a result of people trafficking. A large proportion (43%) are trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation, and an overwhelming majority of those sold into this sex trade (98%) are women or girls.
Sex trafficking is nothing more than modern day slavery. This is women being exploited, degraded and subjected to horrific risks solely for the gratification and economic greed of others.
I am therefore stunned to learn that the Government are "opting out" of an EU directive designed to tackle sex trafficking. Generally, I am no great supporter of European directives, because of the supremacy of our Parliament, but this seems to be a common-sense directive designed to co-ordinate European efforts to combat the trade in sex slaves.
And it is an EU wide problem. Trafficking in the EU used to be a criminal phenomenon coming predominantly from third countries, but the latest enlargements have led to flows of human trafficking within the EU area. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of people being trafficked into the EU, or within the EU, every year. In particular we are seeing many coming through Bulgaria and Romania.
What we need are tough cross-border solutions to international problems. We need to join with our European brothers and sisters and put an end to this evil trade. The Home Office stated this week that "the government will review the UK's position once the directive has been agreed" - I believe that position is seriously flawed. What is the point of waiting till the discussions are over and the directive is already in place? Britain should get involved now and be a part of improving the situation – not sat on the sidelines offering wise-words once the match is over. We failed to engage with the European Economic Treaty at its inception, let history not repeat itself.
Last year I could have remained quiet when the Policing and Crime Act was discussed in the House of Lords. I could have let others debate the right or wrong ways of tackling the UK sex trade; waited for the Bill to be enacted; and then told everyone how we could all improve the legislation now it was in place – but that is not how lawmakers should operate. What we need is a system where those exploiting victims, and perpetuating the suffering of others, can be prosecuted by the courts – and those using the sex trade are better educated about the effect their actions have on others. I believe the Policing and Crime Act helped to do that, and I believe this EU directive will do the same.
At a time when fewer traffickers are being jailed than at any other time in the last 5 years, we need solutions quickly. Only in June, the UK Government was criticised by leading human rights organisations – Anti-Slavery International, Amnesty International UK and ECPAT UK – for having anti-trafficking measures which were "not fit for purpose". We need to protect and support victims and make it easier to tackle the traffickers, no matter where they live or which international boundaries they hide behind.
Just a few days ago the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) revealed in their "Setting the Record" report the extent of the UK problem. Out of the estimated 30,000 women involved in off-street prostitution in Britain, 17,000 of these are migrants – and half of these come from Europe. 2,600 of these migrant sex workers were deemed to have been trafficked and a further 9,200 were deemed vulnerable migrants who may be further victims of trafficking.
I agree with ACPO that we need support from the Government to ensure it works with all agencies to make the UK a more hostile environment for traffickers, to shut down routes to the UK, and to prosecute those who exploit women for their own gains.
We need ambitious and binding legislation to make anti-trafficking policy more effective. Our Government should be ensuring Britain leads the way on tackling slavery, just like it did in the days of William Wilberforce.
We need a united front against the traffickers, pimps and gangsters – and speak out for those that don't have a voice. I hope that the Government will recognise this and reconsider their decision to opt out over this vital directive."
(This article originally appeared in the Yorkshire Post on 04/09/2010.)