Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons.

Human Trafficking: A cross EU problem requiring cross EU solutio

Bar European Group and Lawyers for Europe, the Unitarian Hall, Monday 1st December 2003


The Legal Secretariat to the Law Officers

Attorney General’s Chambers

9 Buckingham Gate


Tel: 020 7271 2400

E-mail: [email protected]


Thank you very much for inviting me to speak at this joint meeting of the Bar European Group and Lawyers for Europe.


I am pleased to have been able to accept this invitation as it enables me to

·        Restate the government’s positive view of the UKs involvement in Europe

·        Say something about the draft EU constitution and then

·        Set out my concerns about the growing problem of human trafficking and how we need to work across Europe to combat it


First the government’s positive agenda on Europe.


It is conventional wisdom that somehow, though the government is positive about Europe, the public are less than enthusiastic.


But probe even just below the surface of public opinion and the picture is different.


I represent the constituency of Cambewell and Peckham in South London.  Many of my constituents are from families who are south London born and bred.  Others come from all over the world – but mostly from countries outside Europe.


My constituents, like everyone else, want our country to be prosperous.  And it is, of course the case that our trade with Europe is key to our prosperity.  That prosperity provides the resources for the improvement of our public services on which my consitituents depend and in which so many of them are employed.


They understand – as does everyone else – that threats to the environment know no national boundaries and that neighbours need to work together to tackle them.


They go on holiday to France and Spain.  Their children go on school trips across the channel.


And there is a further reason why my constituents have a vested interest in Europe – and that is because so many of them come from Africa and because they are concerned about the menace of human trafficking.  This is a cross-European phenomenum and requires cross European action to tackle it.


Most of us will only relatively recently have become aware of the notion of human trafficking.  Indeed I remember very well the first time I heard the phrase.  That was in Belfast when as Minister for Women under our presidency in 1998 I hosted the first meeting of EU women ministers when my fellow ministers from Italy and Greece put it firmly on the agenda.


In what I say to you today, I have drawn on the important work of the Crown Prosecution Service who are working to combat human trafficking in prosecutions in local areas and through the work of the European and International Division.  And I also draw on the information given to me by my constituents from Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda and Tanzania. And from the work being done by UNICEF and by the European network of Prosecutors – Eurojust.


Because the crime of human trafficking has only recently begun to be widely understood, perhaps I can set out what is going on.


It is the crime of the trade in a commodity which is more lucrative even than drugs, diamonds or weapons – and that it the trade in children.  It is modern-day slavery and it is on the increase.


There are three particular areas of origin for human trafficking

·        Thailand and South East Asia

·        Africa – mostly West and East

·        Eastern Europe


Human Trafficking is where people -  mostly women and children (mostly girls between the ages of 12 – 14) are tricked and are brought to Europe into enforced prostitution.


Typically they involve very young women from quiet rural areas of, say Roumania or Moldova – who are told by the traffickers


“There are great jobs going in hotels and bars in Milan.  I’ll get you in and you’ll be able to pay me back from what you earn as well as make your family at home miles better off.”


When they get to Milan they are told – “Oh it’s going to be London rather than Milan”


And it turns out not to be a job in a bar or hotel but instead her forged documents are taken away, she’s raped by the traffickers and then forced into prostitution.


She’s told that if she tells the police, she’ll be sent to prison and if she tries to run away her family will pay the price.  So she stays.  And her way home is blocked.  Either too fearful – or too ashamed by what’s happened to her. What can she say she’s been doing?


Or there are the traffickers who deal in children.  Children brought to Europe for sexual purposes.


In Eastern Africa, AIDS has killed many of the adult population – and the orphaned children then fall to be looked after by the surviving adult relatives.


The British Council arranged me a swap with a Tanzanian MP Monica Mbega.  We were chatting about family things and I told her I had three children. She told me she had 10. Three are her own chilren – the others are those of her two brothers who have died of AIDS.    She is able to care for all those children.  Others are less able to – and so people come to the family and say they can help with the problem of so many children and can arrange for some of children to come to the UK for a better life.  AIDS has created many orphans and thereby a new supply of vulnerable children to be preyed on by traffickers.


And in West Africa too, children are prey to traffickers.  They pose as friends of the community.  So a woman from Northern Nigeria, who may be here illegaly working and who wants to bring her child here will pay the man she thinks is a people smuggler $3,500 and get him to go to her village.  They’ll be expecting him and he’ll pick up the child.


But the child never gets to London – instead is taken to Germany and forced into prostitution.  The trafficker tells the mother.  It didn’t work – I’ll need another $3,500.  The child never appears and she has no redress.


Families in poor rural areas of Western Africa have often sent their children to the cities for “a better life”.  But the “better life” they are offered in the UK turns out to be anything but that.


And women told of hotel jobs or work as hairdressers find that after they’ve been forced into prostitution – then able to send money back home – their family back home are better off and have a stake in them remaining in their degraded position.


The authorities deport women and children.  A foundation working in Lagos came to see me a week or so ago at my constituency surgery.  They said they’d seen a group of women who’d been deported back to Lagos from Milan.  They still had their big annoraks on as they sweltered in the Lagos heat.  They were taken to the police station to be released.  Within days they were staying at a house run by the traffickers and within weeks they were back on the streets of Milan.


African women in my constituency tell me that the victims of trafficking are routinely subjected to violence as well as sexual abuse.  The children are subjected to violence and sexual abuse.


We are concerned to protect women from violence and have high standards of protection for children.  That must go for women and children from abroad as well as those born here.


The trafficking networks work accorss Europe.  And open borders within the EU make the challenge greater.  A man  turns up at Heathrow on a plan from Amsterdam.  He says the young girl with him is his girlfriend’s daughter and they are here for a holiday.  The police suspect otherwise.


The arrival lounge of Heathrow sees a growing number of unaccomapanied minors – who may temporarily go into the care of social services – to a family for fostering – and then dissapear after a couple of weeks.  Or they may have someone to meet them at the airport.  The police see in the Arrivals lounge many who they know to be pimps and drug dealers waiting to meet the children they’ve arranged to come here.


All this requires a co-ordinated and cross-European response.


The draft constitutional treaty which is currently being discussed contains, in the draft Article III-158 on the Area of freedom security and justice (building on what is in the existing EU Treaty):


The union shall constitute an area of freedom security and justice with respect to fundamental rights – taking into account the different legal traditions and systems of the member states.


It looks towards “measures for co-ordination and co-operation between police and judicial authorities and other competent authorities as well as by the mutual recognition of judments in criminal matters and, if necessary, the approximation of criminal laws”


The approach of successive European treaties has been to create a balance between providing for co-operation between police, prosecutors and judiciary and yet to respect the different legal traditions of the member states and not affect the exercise of their responsibilities incumbent upon members states with regard to maintaining law and order and safeguarding internal security. Article III-163.


There is much in the draft constitutional treaty that the government likes. We welcome the references to national legal traditions, and to the importance of mutual recognition rather than harmonisation. The EU should not be in the business of giving all states the same criminal law, or of doing things that states can do better on their own. That is why we oppose the creation of a European Public Prosecutor, because decisions about investigations and prosecutions should be taken nationally.


But there are areas like human trafficking where we all need to work together.


What we clearly need to protect women and children from this fearful trade is

·        work within the UK

·        work between the EU member states and

·        work between the EU and the countries of origin.


And our starting point must be that those who are trafficked are victims.  It is not us who need protecting from them – but they who need protecting from the traffickers.
Work within the UK


All the agencies need to , and increasingly are, working together.  That includes immigration and social services as well as police and prosecutors.


And they need to draw on the support and expertise of the communities here from the countries of origin.


They are well placed to help our agencies understand what’s going on.  Their support and involvement is vital.  Without it there would be an uphill struggle.  The commuities from the countries of origin are keen to help.  I saw this at first hand in a meeting in my constituency.


The police, judiciary, prosecutors and social services need to understand the context – whether they are prosecuting criminal offences or taking child protection proceedings


And we are improving the substantive law – in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 the Sexual Offences Bill which has just completed its stages in parliament and now the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants etc) Bill


We need to intervene at the earliest opportunity – protect the victims and prosecute the traffickers and strip them of the proceeds of their most lucrative crimes.

Work between EU member states


Work between our police forces – and through Europol - is vital.  The police need quickly to be able to check whether the man who’s come from Amsterdam does have a girlfriend there and whether this is indeed her daughter.


The offence may be in one state, evidence in another and proceeds in several others.  Eurojust provides an essential link – together with the liaison magistates in the member states

Work between the EU member states and the countries of origin


We need to do, individually and collectively, as much as we can to prevent women and children being tricked by traffickers in the first place.


Our work with the communities from the countries of origin who are here is vital for that.  They are more likely to heed a warning from their cousins in Pekcham than from “our man in Lagos”


Our development programmes need to warn.  Our development programmes need to play their part in the difficult task of resettling those who’ve been trafficked and who’ve then returned.


We need fairer trade and greater global equality - so that they can sell us their goods and services – not their women and children.




I strongly share the Prime Minister’s view that to be pro-Europe is not to be anti US.  Nor is it anti-European to acknowledge our close and longstanding relationship with the US.   On the contrary.  It is in the interests of the US for there to be a strong, coherent and united Europe.  And it is in Europe’s interests to work together in such a way that strengthens the multi-lateralists in the US.


Europe plays an important role in the world because it spreads democracy.  It does so not by force but by example.


When the Soviet Union collapsed – it was to Europe that the former soviet states looked.  It was that model that they followed.  It is that group of member states which they seek to join.


With our European allies we will trade, tackle the problems of the environment and fight crime.


And with our European allies we provide a clear sense of direction for those states who are at a turning point.

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