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Thousands back petition to fight child trafficking in Scotland

Thousands back petition to fight child trafficking in Scotland

More than 6000 people have signed a petition calling upon the Scottish Government to provide vital support for trafficked children.

In response to an online campaign launched by leading children's rights charities in August, thousands of people signed up to put pressure on the government to strengthen the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Bill.

Ahead of a cross-party debate on the bill this afternoon, ECPAT UK will hand over the petition to MSPs urging them to make sure new legislation is as robust as possible to protect young victims.

The campaign, led by ECPAT UK in partnership with Walk Free and Care, backs an amendment which would ensure children who are trafficked by their own parents are assigned an independent guardian.

It also calls for clear provision to ensure that child victims are not prosecuted for crimes they are forced to commit by their traffickers and for "more robust" criminal legislation to bring abusers to justice.

The campaign follows the third largest consultation on trafficking laws in Scottish history, with more than 50,000 people contributing to research on the issue.

Earlier this year, official figures showed that there were 55 people across Scotland identified as victims of human trafficking, though Justice Secretary Michael Matheson revealed that there could be as many as 1000 hidden victims.

Speaking to BBC Radio Scotland's GMS in March, Mr Matheson said: "There are estimates from the Home Office that there could be something between 10,000-13,000 people within the UK who are the subject of human trafficking and exploitation and if we take Scotland's pro rata share of that, that would indicate that there could be around 1000 cases in Scotland."

Charities such as ECPAT UK have expressed concern that children trafficked to Scotland are often exploited in domestic servitude, forced labour and sexual exploitation, with some disappearing from care and re-trafficked again.

Some trafficked children have also been found to have been prosecuted for crimes they were forced to commit, such as cannabis cultivation. Others had gone missing and were re-trafficked while many more endured years of continued abuse.

The Scottish Government's Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill would create a specific offence of human trafficking for the first time as well as increase the maximum penalty for offenders to life imprisonment.

The Bill would also give police the power to confiscate vehicles, ships or aircraft owned or in the possession of people arrested on suspicion of trafficking.

Chloe Setter, Head of Advocacy, Policy & Campaigns, ECPAT UK, said: "This is a landmark opportunity for MSPs to pledge their support for children, who are the most vulnerable of all to human trafficking.

"We urge them to make sure Scotland's legislation is as strong as it can be to protect all children from exploitation and punish those who seek to abuse and enslave them."

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