The Queen has today promised that new anti-slavery and anti-trafficking legislation will help to improve prosecutions of traffickers and will improve support for their victims.

In her final Queen’s Speech before the General Election, the Queen announced that the new legislation, the Modern Slavery Bill, would improve ‘support for victims of such crimes’, signalling the Government has listened to the campaign calls of ECPAT UK and other experts: victim protection must be central to any legislation to tackle modern-day slavery. 

In a briefing accompanying the Queen's Speech, the Government said it would 'create a statutory defence for victims of modern slavery so that those who are forced to commit an offence are not treated as criminals by the criminal justice system. The defence will not apply to serious sexual and violent offences'.

It also stated it would provide statutory guidance on victim identification and victim services, would provide an enabling power for child advocates to support child victims of trafficking and create an Anti-Slavery Commissioner –  all things called for by ECPAT UK in its Modern Slavery Bill campaign, launched in December last year.

The campaign, so far supported by more than 70,000 signatures, urged the Home Secretary to ensure that the final legislation took into account the needs and vulnerability of trafficked children by introducing four key measures:

  1. Measures to protect and assist all victims, including the creation of a system of legal guardianship to provide vulnerable children with an independent professional to fight for their rights

  2. The establishment of an independent Anti-Trafficking Commissioner to monitor and improve the UK’s response to human trafficking

  3. The creation of a specific crime of child exploitation to reflect the severity of this abuse of children and convict more offenders

  4. Protection for victims so they are not imprisoned for crimes they were forced to commit by their traffickers

Earlier this year, ECPAT UK used its experience of working with young victims and the issues they face to inform our written and oral evidence to the Joint Committee on the Draft Modern Slavery Bill, which was appointed to report to Parliament on the proposed legislation. Last month, the Committee backed all four of our campaign calls.

Chloe Setter, Head of Advocacy, Policy & Campaigns (Child Trafficking), ECPAT UK, said: “It is too early to say, without seeing the final text of the Bill, if this will be a robust piece of new legislation to tackle trafficking and slavery, but we are hopeful that the Government has listened to the expertise of those working in this area and heeded the clear recommendations of the Joint Committee to put victims and children at the heart of the Modern Slavery Bill. From what we've heard today, it looks very promising but the devil will be in the detail.

“We know that urgent measures are needed in this Bill to ensure child victims of trafficking are better protected and more traffickers are punished for the cruel and damaging abuse they inflict on some of the most vulnerable young people in the UK and abroad.