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Human Trafficking in Scotland: An Overview of Legislation and Figures

In the last few years, the Scottish government has earnestly addressed the issues of human trafficking and exploitation within the country. Previously, Scotland and the United Kingdom did not have specific legislation nor single definition for human trafficking and exploitation, which made it difficult to prosecute such crimes. Within Scotland, the issues were dealt with under the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003, and Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010. In 2015, the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Act was unanimously passed by the Scottish Parliament, thereby addressing the criminal activity, the support for survivors and wider conditions fostering trafficking and slavery head on.

This Act addresses human trafficking, slavery, servitude and forced labour, and victim support within Scotland. The most pertinent provisions of the Act include the following:

  • It provides a single definition to prosecute the crimes under, gives the courts new powers to prevent and punish, and it consolidates and strengthens existing laws against human trafficking.

  • The Act also raises the maximum penalty for trafficking to life imprisonment for both human trafficking and crimes related to exploitation.

  • Importantly, the Act places a duty on Scottish Ministers to secure provision of immediate support and recovery services for victims of human trafficking and exploitation.

The Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy for Scotland

The Scottish government is also required under the Act to realise and implement a Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy for Scotland, which was released in May 2017.

The implementation of the Strategy is ongoing. Large in scope, the aim of the Scottish government, in conjunction with counterpart organisations and government offices, is to eliminate human trafficking and exploitation. This will be done through acting on the following areas:

  • Action Area 1: Identifying victims and support them to safety and recovery;

  • Action Area 2: Identify perpetrators and disrupt their activity;

  • Action Area 3: Address the conditions, both local and global, that foster trafficking and exploitation.

Each action area itself is a complex and deep issue, requiring a breadth of resources and cooperation from different organisations and government bodies. The Strategy creates a blueprint that brings together the work of Scottish Government, local authorities, Police Scotland, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, and NHS Scotland, as well as the private sector, in order to provide a coherent and effective action plan for victims and against perpetrators. Together, the coalition uses the framework established within the Strategy to answer the following questions related to each action item: what is already happening? What needs to improve? What actions will the Scottish government take?

A full summary of the tasks related to each action areas, as well as a comprehensive breakdown on the strategy, can be found here.

At the international level, the Strategy strives to fulfill international obligations stipulated by the European Union and the United Nations, such as the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings. The Strategy also supports Scotland’s commitment to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which were adopted by Scotland in 2015. Many of these goals seek to eliminate the conditions which allow human trafficking to thrive, such as poverty, gender inequality and violence against women and girls, and limited access to education. More specifically, SDGs 5, 8, 16, and 17, have specific clauses targeting human trafficking.

The NRM in Scotland

Scotland uses the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), which is the UK wide framework for identifying victims of human trafficking and ensuring they receive the appropriate support. The National Crime Agency publishes yearly statistics on adults and children who have been referred to the NRM as victims of human trafficking. According to the NRM, in 2016 there were 150 potential victims of trafficking in Scotland: 75 were females and 75 males; 103 were adults and 47 were children. Of the 150, over 67% were women or children. The referrals were for different types of trafficking and exploitation: women were trafficked primarily for sexual exploitation, female children were trafficked mainly for domestic servitude and labour exploitation. Male adults and children were mainly trafficked for the purpose of labour exploitation.

Scotland represents 3.9% of the total number of victims referred to the NRM in 2016:[1]

However, the NRM only provides a partial picture of the scale of human trafficking as many victims refuse to give their consent to enter into the NRM for reasons such as fear of punishment, or not wanting to be labeled a victim. Additionally, a problem can be seen in that within Scotland, adult victims of slavery, servitude, forced or compulsory labour (an offence defined by Section 4 of the 2015 Act) are NOT currently recorded into the NRM database or through the NRM framework. The fact that Section 4 victims are not being recorded in the NRM is under review and consideration by the Scottish government; additionally, the Scottish government is further proposing to extend the NRM victim support period form 45 days to 90 days.

[1] National Crime Agency, The National Referral Mechanism Statistics- End of Year Summary 2016.

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