No More Traffik On Our Streets

We welcome this guest post from Dónal Kearney.
Dónal is a Law graduate of Cambridge University.
He has worked as an intern with the CAJ Equality Office
and is currently a Legal Support Project volunteer
at the Law Centre (NI).

No More Traffik On Our Streets

According to stopthetraffik.org, trafficking means “to be deceived or taken against your will, bought, sold and transported into slavery for sexual exploitation, sweat shops, child brides, circuses, sacrificial worship, forced begging, sale of human organs, farm labour, domestic servitude”. This harrowing description describes the violation of several internationally recognised human rights; including freedom from slavery and freedom of movement. Trafficking involves a global criminal underworld that creates an awesome amount of money. The trafficking industry has three elements working in tandem: the power of the traffickers, the vulnerability of the victims, and the demand of the punters. This is a common formula in the 21st century, but it is surprising how serious an issue it has become in Northern Ireland.

At the STEP (South Tyrone Empowerment Project) conference in March (which was mentioned by Mairéad Collins in her rightsni.org article) Bernadette McAliskey CEO made the argument for activism with characteristic insight:

“When people read of human trafficking the story tends to concentrate on the more sensationalised context of brothels and prostitution with the moral outrage centred on buying and selling sex. The reality is that this tip of a scandalous iceberg can exist only in the context of human trafficking that excites less public attention – the exploitation and dehumanising of labour. People who are treated as no more than cheapest units of imported labour – whether lawfully imported; smuggled or trafficked are vulnerable to destitution and the downward spiral of unprotected rights forces them into domestic servitude, slave labour and prostitution. All these things are happening every day in the communities in which we live as part of the fabric of our society. This is modern day slavery. Nobody will protect the human dignity and human rights of the 21st century slave if we do not.”

Since the publication of a 2009 report by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, there has been another report by the Anti-Trafficking Monitoring Group, which honed in on NI-specific trafficking issues. Despite these analyses of the problems, examples of PSNI action against traffickers are few and far between. However, last month finally saw the first conviction ever in Northern Ireland for human trafficking offences. Indeed, there has been growing attention paid to human trafficking as a political issue in the last year, with campaigns gaining momentum across the region.

The “No More Traffik On Our Streets” campaign began this week in Belfast in the form of an inaugural Festival between 12-20 May 2012. It will celebrate a modern, urban, anti-slavery movement in 21st century Northern Ireland. Recent short documentaries from the Evangelical Alliance and the Human Rights Consortium are doing their bit to highlight the gravity of the problem here in Northern Ireland. A silent corruption is wreaking havoc in our cities, towns and villages, and an invisible trauma is scarring our community from within. It must be noticed.

This recent trafficking conviction must spell the way forward for the Establishment in its attempts to firstly limit, and eventually eradicate, the horrors of modern slavery. The fact that David Ford MLA has introduced a consultation on new legislation to counteract human trafficking across the region is also an encouraging step. This consultation document remains open until 31 May 2012 and it is hoped that as many as possible will participate. It is our responsibility to combat the slave trade, subsisting unnoticed in our hometowns as an invisible shame.