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04 June 2015

Northern Ireland leads in human trafficking laws

Northern Ireland leads in human trafficking laws

by Hannah Smith

Buying sex in Northern Ireland was made illegal this week as the Assembly passed an Act to protect human dignity.

On Monday, 1 June, The Human Trafficking and Exploitation Act came into effect, with an atmosphere of excitement and celebration in an event at Stormont on Monday morning to mark the new law.

Following opening remarks, Mia, a former victim of prostitution, was the first to address those gathered. As Lord Morrow, the author of the Act, later remarked, she 'stole the show'.

Mia recounted her experience as a prostitute. How shifting circumstances had brought her to a place where she no longer had a choice, commenting: "In two and a half years I had moved from working in an office job to selling myself for 30 euro on the street."

Mia spoke passionately of the change, hailing the new legislation as something that protects human dignity. A law that ensures the integrity afforded to all is protected and preserved.

No one was left untouched by Mia's story as everyone stood to applaud her courage and willingness to share.

The next address was given by SDLP MLA, Alban Maginness, the chairperson of the all-party human trafficking group.

Mr Maginness cheered that the new legislation 'is about changing values';that the new law can prevent a culture of acceptance around this issue.

Maginness commented: "This has a much broader canvas, it concerns all exploited men and women throughout the world … and we as a society, as an Assembly have responded to that through Lord Morrow's bill."

The third speaker, Noelle Collins of Women's Aid, opened her speech by playing celebratory music, asking the audience to stand and dance. The point was made that although awkward when asked to dance, we were invited by her to do so. Victims of human trafficking and prostitution are not invited into that work, they are forced.

Mrs Collins demonstrated the startling effects of sex-trafficking through the art of a recovering young women. Black and white pictures of desperation changed to positive, colourful art as recovery progressed. In many ways this transition represents the cultural transition our society has embarked on. A transition from silence, ignorance and suppression to a culture of protection, truth and redemption.

Rhoda Grant, a Labour MSP, who has attempted to introduce a similar bill in Scotland, addressed the audience, encouraging Northern Ireland to 'keep going'. Commenting on the issue Mrs Grant remarked: "We in Scotland have a lot to learn from you and hope that we bring you back to celebrate with us."

There was a real sense of unity across parties on the matter as Maginness praised Lord Morrow for the obstacles overcome to bring this bill to completion. Similarly, Lord Morrow thanked the SDLP party for their full support and commended Maginness.

Lord Morrow stated his gratitude for the 'constructive work of the Alliance party' and praised the joint work and support of all parties from Sinn Fein to UKIP.

The Evangelical Alliance's Northern Ireland director, Peter Lynas, commented: "Member organisation CARE played a key role in drafting this legislation which we helped to shape along the way.

"It was great to see Christian organisations taking the lead in pushing through this Act and today we celebrate its implementation. With this Act, Northern Ireland can lead the way for a legal, cultural and societal change across the British Isles, to restore, redeem and protect the human dignity of all members in our society."