13 September 2023, a report by the Human Rights and Equality Commission of Ireland (IHREC) on recommendations to the government for improving its methods for supporting victims of human trafficking was released. The report revealed that from 2013 to 2022, 55% of victims were trafficked for sexual exploitation, 38% were trafficked for labor exploitation, and for the first time, suspected trafficking for organ removal was recorded.
Shortly after the first conviction for the offense, reports of more cases of organ trafficking in the UK are being investigated. The Journal reports that this first recording of organ removal in Ireland represents a larger trend at play in the whole of the EU: novel forms of exploitation are picking up.
Even though organ trafficking is not a new type of human trafficking, it does not get the same kind of attention as other forms of human trafficking in Ireland or the rest of Europe. This is not to say that other forms of human trafficking are rare, but rather not enough attention is being paid to lesser-known forms.
A nuanced approach to a nuanced problem
IHREC explains that the use of technology to facilitate lesser-known forms of exploitation is also a trend that is being mirrored in the wider context of Europe. For example, forced marriage, illegal adoption and forced surrogacy are slipping under the radar.
IHREC chief commissioner Sinéad Gibney said,
“People trafficking can come in many guises, so we must work to expand our understanding and legal definition of trafficking to include novel forms of exploitation.”
In efforts to address the nuances of this issue, the IHREC said it welcomes steps to establish a statutory National Referral Mechanism (NRM). NRM is a framework for identifying and referring potential victims of modern slavery and ensuring they receive the appropriate support that accommodates the complex and varied forms of exploitation one can suffer. This will be a wide-ranging piece of legislation that the Commission believes will have significant potential.
A positive step forward
The Commission is also recommending that statutory protection from persecution for victims of human trafficking be included in the new General Scheme of the Criminal Justice Bill 2022. This means that if a person has committed a crime as a direct consequence of them being trafficked, they will be protected from getting penalized for that crime. This is a significant step in helping trafficking victims come forward because it mitigates the fear and risk that they will be on the hook for crimes they were forced to commit due to their circumstances. Additionally, traffickers will not be able to use the fact that the victim broke the law as leverage to keep exploiting them.
While we are not in the clear yet, these are considerable steps in the right direction in addressing human trafficking from a more holistic and victim-oriented point of view.