Cardinal Seán Brady, archbishop of Armagh and chair of a social affairs council for the Northern Irish bishops, is urging support for a bill on human trafficking and exploitation.
In a letter to members of the Northern Ireland Legislative Assembly published today, the cardinal notes, “Human trafficking, in its many forms, is one of the most serious forms of injustice in our society. It is a crime that robs its victims, not only of their basic rights and freedoms, but of their very dignity as persons.”
Cardinal Brady writes as chair of the Northern Ireland Catholic Council on Social Affairs (NICCOSA), the council comprising women and men with experience in issues of social justice and pastoral care who provide advice and support to the Catholic bishops of Northern Ireland on social issues.
He explained that the council has given “detailed consideration to the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Further Provisions and Support for Victims) Bill sponsored by Lord Morrow of the Democratic Unionist Party which is scheduled for discussion by the Northern Ireland Assembly in coming days” and council members have voiced unanimous support for the bill.
Cardinal Brady said the bill can make “Northern Ireland a safer place for those vulnerable to, or victims of, the crime of human trafficking.”
“In addition to ensuring adequate support is available to those who have been the victims of trafficking, we believe it is vital that robust legislation tackling the demand for trafficked persons, whether as illegal and poorly treated labour or for sexual exploitation, is essential,” he added.
Reducing human beings to commodities
Cardinal Brady said that in particular, the “demand for ‘sexual services'” should be addressed.
“The majority of those rescued from situations of human trafficking in Northern Ireland to date have been victims of sexual exploitation,” he stated. “Representatives of the Catholic Church, including those who work voluntarily to provide protection, care and support to those who have been trafficked and exploited, have previously emphasized the need for legislation on prostitution and the purchase of ‘sexual services’ in both jurisdictions in the island of Ireland. Last year, having listened to those from the Church who work with the victims of prostitution and human trafficking, the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference issued a statement in which they pointed out that: ‘All prostitution, even in cases where the individual has not been a victim of trafficking, reduces the human being to a commodity that can be bought and sold. It is damaging for those affected and for society as a whole. Criminalization of the purchase of “sexual services” would ensure that An Garda Síochána and the PSNI are empowered to take action to stop and prevent the exploitation of vulnerable people through prostitution. In addition, cooperation across Government departments is required in order to develop targeted “exit strategies” to assist and support people wishing to leave prostitution, including access to health care, education and employment.”‘”
“With the women and men of NICCOSA,” the cardinal concluded, “the Catholic Bishops of Northern Ireland repeat this call and encourage you to give your full support for the Bill sponsored by Lord Morrow and to addressing the heinous and deplorable crime of human trafficking and exploitation.”