The identification and protection of victims of human trafficking, and especially child victims of trafficking, is a key priority of my Department's anti-trafficking strategy and of efforts by An Garda Síochána to combat trafficking and crimes against children.
In response to the Deputy's question on the number of incidences of suspected child trafficking brought to the attention of my Department, I can say as follows:
- In 2019 (as of 31 October), I am informed by the Garda authorities that there were six human trafficking incidents where the victim was identified as a child.
- In 2018, I am informed by the Garda authorities that there were five suspected human trafficking incidents where the victim was identified as a child (these victims were identified in five separate incidents).
- In 2017, I am informed by the Garda authorities that there were four suspected human trafficking victims. I am unable to confirm the number of incidents involved in relation to these victims.
The Deputy may also wish to note that it is important to distinguish between human trafficking involving children, and offences under section 3(2) of the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 1998 (as amended by the Criminal Law (Human Trafficking) Act 2008), which criminalises the sexual exploitation of a child. Historically, the overwhelming majority of child victims of offences under trafficking legislation included in Irish statistics are Irish child victims of sexual exploitation, usually carried out for personal gratification rather than commercial gain, and often by someone known to the child. Since 2017 these crimes have been excluded from Ireland's reporting on human trafficking, since they fall outside the internationally agreed definition of trafficking. These crimes continue to be a priority for investigation and prosecution.
While there have been cases of commercial sexual exploitation involving children, both EEA and non-EEA nationals, these cases are rare. As with all crimes, members of An Garda Síochána are vigilant in their efforts to combat the crime of human trafficking and especially the trafficking of children.
The Deputy may wish to note that An Garda Síochána has committed significant resources to the investigation and prosecution of human trafficking in Ireland. A specialised Garda Unit, the Human Trafficking Investigation and Co-ordination Unit, has been has been in place since 2009 to conduct investigations into human trafficking and provide advice, support and where necessary, operational assistance to investigations at district level. An Garda Síochána is also active in relation to trafficking gangs through work targeting organised crime - targeting their finances, their use of the internet and by working closely with other jurisdictions.
The Second National Action Plan to Prevent and Combat Human Trafficking was launched in 2016. The Action Plan involves a victim-centred and human rights based approach with the ultimate aims of preventing human trafficking, ensuring an effective criminal justice response and delivery of supports to victims.
The Deputy may also wish to note that action is also being taken to raise public awareness in Ireland and help members of the public identify the signs of human trafficking. More information is available on the “Blue Blindfold” website http://www.blueblindfold.gov.ie, which is maintained by my Department.