ECPAT UK, in partnership with leading campaigners Walk Free and CARE, have called on the Scottish Government to provide vital support for trafficked children in new anti-trafficking legislation.

Research in 2014 found that children had been trafficked to Scotland and exploited in domestic servitude, forced labour and sexual exploitation, with some disappearing from care and re-trafficked to a life of further abuse.

Leading anti-trafficking and children’s rights organisation ECPAT UK has teamed up with Walk Free and CARE to launch a wide-reaching public campaign that will put pressure on the Scottish Government to strengthen the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Bill in order to protect all children at risk of trafficking and to bring their abusers to justice.

Last year, more than 50,000 people contributed to a consultation on the issue of Scottish trafficking laws, the third largest in Scottish history. Now, ECPAT UK, Walk Free and CARE are asking the Justice Secretary Michael Matheson MSP to amend the Bill to prioritise the needs of vulnerable children before the legislation returns to Parliament for the final time in early autumn. 

The case of ‘Ruby’, the campaigners say, is indicative of the plight of trafficked children in Scotland. 

Five days from her 18th birthday, ‘Ruby’ escaped her traffickers in Scotland, having endured two violent years of sexual exploitation and ritual abuse. She had to tell her story to professionals 15 times. But after therapy and support from a specialised service, she began to rebuild her life. 

But not all children get access to the support ‘Ruby’ received. Some trafficked children have been prosecuted for crimes they were forced to commit, such as cannabis cultivation. Others go missing and are re-trafficked. Many endure years of abuse.

ECPAT UK, in partnership with Walk Free and CARE, want to see the new legislation do more to address this unjust situation. They have launched a public campaign calling on the Scottish Government to legislate for an effective system of independent guardianship, ensure children are not prosecuted for crimes they are forced to commit, and update the offence of slavery and forced labour to help clamp down on abusers who exploit the inherent vulnerabilities of children. 

Chloe Setter, Head of Policy, Advocacy & Campaigns at ECPAT UK, said: 

“Scotland has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pass leading legislation on human trafficking, but it risks overlooking those who are most vulnerable – children. The Bill must be improved to ensure Scotland has the best protection possible for children at risk of exploitation, as well as the most robust criminal legislation to bring abusers to justice. 

“We call upon the Scottish Government to recognise the plight of trafficked children and act to put them at the heart of this historic Bill.”

CARE for Scotland Parliamentary Officer Gordon Macdonald said: 

“Child victims of trafficking are often the most vulnerable and therefore it is vital the Scottish Government’s trafficking legislation recognises children with specific clauses. 

“Thanks to the Scottish Guardianship Service, Scotland has led the way in providing support and help for child victims but that service urgently needs to be put on a statutory basis in its fullest form.  The partial approach being taken at present does not provide adequate protection for vulnerable children. 

“Improving the Bill in respect to offences committed by children who are trafficked will also go some way to ensuring they receive adequate protection from unnecessary prosecution.  

 “The SNP will not want the embarrassment of having trafficking laws that in any way shape or form fall short of the Modern Slavery Act that covers England and Wales.  

“England, Wales and Northern Ireland already have anti-trafficking laws in place and we want to ensure Scotland is not left behind in tackling the scourge of modern day slavery.”

Walk Free Director Joanna Ewart-James said:

“A strong and comprehensive law would make Scotland a leader in the fight against modern slavery. Unfortunately, the disappointing lack of provisions for children in the Bill mean that children in Scotland risk falling through the gaps and remaining exposed to exploitation and abuse at the hands of traffickers. Our supporters in Scotland feel very strongly about this issue and will keep up the pressure until we get a Scottish Trafficking Act to be proud of.“

ECPAT UK, Walk Free and CARE have successfully campaigned for several improved protections for children in legislation across the UK, including a pilot child advocates scheme in the Modern Slavery Act (England and Wales). ECPAT UK has also worked closely with Lord Morrow in Northern Ireland to support the introduction of independent guardians for all separated and trafficked children in Northern Ireland’s human trafficking legislation.