I wish to reinforce the point I made in the debate last week, namely, that the Minister has consistently taken an incorrect position on the issue of human trafficking in Ireland. It is not true that human trafficking is a potential rather than existing problem. While the number of victims of trafficking and the level of exploitation here may not equate to those of other European countries — this is due purely to geographical location — Ireland still has a significant human trafficking problem.
It is important to remind the House of the level of human trafficking and criminal activity in this area worldwide. According to figures released by the International Labour Organisation in 2005, each year up to 12.3 million people fall victim to forced labour and, of these, 2.4 million are victims of human trafficking. Between 600,000 and 800,000 men, women and children are trafficked across international borders each year. According to the US State Department, approximately 80% of this group consists of women and children and 50% are minors. According to UNICEF, 1.2 million children are trafficked each year for the purposes of exploitation and abuse. The criminal proceeds generated on the back of the trafficking of women, children and men for the purposes of exploitation are estimated to be up to €7 billion globally.
Anyone naive enough to believe that a country as wealthy and prosperous as Ireland is immune to this criminal activity has his or her head in the sand. Approximately 100,000 people are trafficked across borders in Europe each year. Anybody who believes that none of the victims of this crime comes to Ireland or is transported through this country is being deliberately misleading or is naive. I appeal to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, who is in a position of responsibility in this regard, to change tack when he gives interviews on this issue. He should cease using dismissive language about the trafficking problem and arguing that Ireland may need to counteract it at some point in the future and state instead that trafficking is a problem which will grow if we do not legislate to address it.
In terms of the evidence of trafficking in Ireland, I and other speakers have noted the role of Ruhama, an organisation that has encountered up to 200 female victims of trafficking in recent years and provided assistance to 132 of these women. It found that 73% of the group originated in eastern Europe, 21% were from Africa, 4% from South America and 2% from Asia. Anyone who knows anything about the level of secrecy and criminal organisation involved in trafficking or the fear instilled in victims by the criminals who make money from this activity will realise that the figure of 200 constitutes a tiny proportion of the actual victims who have either suffered or are suffering abuse.
Apart from being a destination for traffickers, Ireland has serious questions to answer in terms of its role as a transit country or easy route, specifically into the United Kingdom, used by gangs organising trafficking activity. In recent months, evidence of this problem emerged in a BBC programme and a report published by the Welsh Assembly. Let us face the fact that trafficking is a problem.
I welcome the Bill and I am particularly pleased that the new Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is treating the issue of trafficking as a priority to be addressed early in his term. While it is welcome, the action taken thus far is not sufficient.
The Bill criminalises trafficking and a number of linked activities. This important legislative area needed to be updated in terms of defining the trafficking of a child or adult for the purposes of labour or sexual exploitation, organ harvesting and so on. I welcome the Bill in that regard.
The Government must concentrate its efforts and focus on three matters, namely, prosecution, prevention and the protection of victims. I will not waste too much time on the prosecution element, which is predominantly about defining in law the problem and putting in place the necessary legislation to make it as easy as possible for the Garda to get tough convictions. I welcome the legislation as it imposes life sentences and significant fines on the gangs involved.
However, it is unfortunate that the Bill does not attempt to address the other two matters. The most controversial is prevention, but what is not controversial is ensuring gardaí are trained in the most up-to-date methods of dealing with trafficking. We must ensure cross-border co-operation within the European Union between so-called source and destination countries. Opting out of the reform treaty's provisions on cross-border co-operation on crime gives an unfortunate signal to criminal gangs. To be fair to the Government, we will decide to opt into most of the areas of co-operation, specifically those dealing with drug and human trafficking and other cross-broder criminal activity.
The most controversial element is the need to target demand for the services provided as a result of exploitation, abuse, violence, intimidation and organised trafficking of vulnerable people, primarily from outside Ireland, for the purpose of sexual use or abuse, whether in a brothel or in the informal setting of an apartment or basement in a town or city. Our efforts will amount to nothing unless we are serious about targeting the user or the client of brothels.
While there is a demand for the services of the nastier side of the sex industry, it will be met by supplying victims for exploitation, primarily through trafficking. Judging by the increased numbers of foreign prostitutes versus young Irish women who find themselves in that situation, people are being invited, encouraged or forced into Ireland to meet demand. I would like the Government to take a braver and stronger stand against demand and to target the businessman, farmer, accountant or unemployed man who uses the services knowingly of teenage girls or young women brought to Ireland to service demand.
The protection of victims is the most worrying aspect of the proposed legislation. The explanatory memorandum reads: "The protection of and provision of services for victims of trafficking will be dealt with administratively and immigration issues will be included in the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill." The message is that legislation will deal with victims and their protection in the context of a debate on illegal immigration and the related issues that must be addressed. In terms of legislative development, the Government will put people brought here illegally for exploitation in the same category as illegal immigrants. The message sent out will be that we do not want them, that they should not have come to Ireland, that they are illegal and should be repatriated and deported. Irrespective of whether we do this, it is the message being sent. We must do everything we can to encourage the victims of exploitation and trafficking, whether they work on mushroom farms or in brothels, to come forward, speak out and go to the Garda.
If we are unable to address the protection of victims in legislation that deals with human trafficking specifically, to make it easier to secure prosecutions by making people brave enough to come forward or to guarantee protection, we are putting the debate off until another day. The matter will be immersed in a complex and difficult debate on illegal immigration, deportation, repatriation and the other controversial issues concerning immigrants. That is the wrong way to go about it. The people in question are victims and should be treated like we would treat a 17 year old Irish girl were she forced into a brothel to be abused by clients nightly. Were she a 15 year old or 16 year old Irish girl, there would be a national outcry if she came forward. If the girl comes from Nigeria, Latvia, the Ukraine or the Balkans and does not speak our language, the attitude seems to be that she should not be here in the first place, that she is illegal and that the problem will be solved by sending her home.
The issue is not so simple. Before we consider whether someone should be returned home to the streets of Albania, Moldova, Nigeria or wherever, in circumstances that resulted in his or her being trafficked in the first place, we have an obligation under a series of EU, Council of Europe and UN protocols and conventions to treat those who have been exploited or trafficked as victims and to give them the protection of the law and the support of the State through health services, be it in respect of mental or physical health.
I support the Minister and I welcome his tabling of legal definitions for a crime that will not be a crime until this legislation is passed, namely, the trafficking of adults into Ireland. Other legislation addresses the trafficking of children. For the purpose of human rights, we must get it right for the victims. If someone comes to Ireland and is abused by our people or the citizens of other countries living here, the State has a responsibility to encourage the person to come forward, to support him or her and to provide temporary residency, as we are obliged to do under a European Council directive so that he or she need not worry about deportation until his or her health is restored with the support of the State, be it for three, five, six months or whatever. Once the person is capable of finding his or her feet and going home, repatriation must be discussed. Let us deal with victims on the basis of crimes that have been committed against them, not on the basis of where they have come from. That is where this legislation falls down and we will introduce amendments on Committee Stage to that effect.