Modern day slavery is a topic of concern across the world. International concern is justified because in the 21st century, there are more victims of slavery than at the time when William Wilberforce fought to end slavery. Some of the victims of modern day slavery have gained media attention, as for example the Yazidi girls and women abducted and enslaved by Daesh from Sinjar, or girls and women abducted and enslaved by Boko Haram. Nonetheless, such incidents, though appalling, are not even the tip of the iceberg. UNICEF estimates that there are around 21 million people trafficked for modern day slavery across the globe. This includes about 5.5 million children.
Victims of modern day slavery struggle to have their voices heard. What is more, even if they are heard, there is no guarantee that they will receive the assistance they need. The provision of support to victims is still greatly failing. In England and Wales, victims of modern day slavery do not have any automatic entitlement to housing, financial support, or any other practical support that would assist them post-abuse and enslavement. After escaping the offender, they often become homeless and extremely vulnerable to further exploration and abuse. However, the picture is not as bleak everywhere in the United Kingdom. In Northern Ireland and Scotland such support is required by law, in accordance with international standards, for example, the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings and the Directive 2011/36/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 5 April 2011. While England and Wales may meet their obligations under Article 4 of the European Convention of Human Rights, they could and should do more for victims, as Northern Ireland and Scotland do.
In response to these failings, Lord McColl of Dulwich, put forward the Modern Slavery (Victim Support) Bill, a Private Members Bill that is due to have its second reading on 8th September 2017. The Bill would make two main amendments to the Modern Slavery Act 2015 (the MSA 2015) that require consideration, namely, assistance to individuals whose victimhood for the purposes of the MSA 2015 is yet to be determined, and assistance to the individuals already determined to be victims of modern day slavery.
The proposed section 48A concerns the provision of assistance and support during the ‘reflection and recovery period.’ The reflection and recovery period is the period of 45 days from the date on which the referral of a potential victim to the National Referral Mechanism (the NRM) was made. Under what would be section 48A(3), the assistance and support is to be provided unless a determination was made that ‘there are there are no reasonable grounds to believe that the person is a victim of modern slavery’, ‘the person is a victim of modern slavery’ or ‘the person is not a victim of modern slavery.’ The proposed section 48B concerns assistance and support for victims of modern slavery following conclusive determination that the individual is a victim of modern day slavery. Under section 48B(3), ‘assistance and support is to be provided for a period of 12 months.’ Furthermore, under section 48(B)(4) ‘the Secretary of State must ensure that a person to whom this section applies is granted leave to remain in the United Kingdom for as long as necessary for that person to receive support.’ Lastly, section 48C clarifies what is meant by ‘assistance and support’; it includes safe accommodation, financial assistance, medical help, counselling, a support worker, appropriate information, translation and interpretation services, legal assistance, and assistance with repatriation.
Lord McColl’s proposed Bill addresses the failings of the current mechanisms in England and Wales concerning the provision of assistance and support to the victims or potential victims of the modern day slavery. To encourage victims to speak out, they need support to re-establish their lives after the time they spent enslaved, abused, and exploited. Victims and suspected victims must be sure that if they escape or seek help, they will not be left alone. They deserve the state’s assistance and support. We need to recognise that while rescuing victims from their oppressors is crucial, once free, they require help and assistance that currently, under the law in England and Wales, is not available.