Watchdog warns Britain is breaking antislavery law by jailing human trafficking victims
Prison Reform Trust warns women are often jailed despite being recognised as trafficking victims
London — Female victims of human trafficking in Britain are being jailed wrongly in breach of a landmark antislavery law as the government fails to identify cases of women being forced to commit crimes, say campaigners.
Foreign women are often jailed for crimes such as cannabis production, prostitution-related acts, fraud and begging — commonly under coercion — despite being recognised as trafficking victims, the Prison Reform Trust said on Monday.
Of the 585 foreign female prisoners examined for the charity’s report for February 2013 to March 2017, 45 were identified as victims or potential victims of trafficking.
"Despite legislation to protect victims of trafficking, current processes are failing to identify vulnerable women and prevent their prosecution for offences they were compelled to commit," said Katy Swaine Williams of the trust.
Britain’s 2015 Modern Slavery Act has a defence for victims forced to commit crimes.
"Victims of modern slavery should not be prosecuted for criminal offences they were forced to commit as a result of exploitation," said a home office spokesperson. "We have commissioned an independent review of the [act], which will consider the implementation of the statutory defence for victims and help us identify what more we can do to tackle these terrible crimes."
The government said in July it will review the legislation amid criticism that it is not being used fully to jail traffickers, support victims or drive companies to root out forced labour.
At least 5,145 suspected trafficking victims were uncovered in Britain last year, versus 3,804 in 2016. About half of them were women. After Britain, the most common countries of origin were Albania, Vietnam, China and Nigeria, government figures show.
Britain is home to about 136,000 modern slaves, according to the Global Slavery Index by rights group Walk Free Foundation. That figure is 10 times higher than a 2013 government estimate.
Thomson Reuters Foundation