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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Bringing Different Perspectives Together

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

At the national conference of the UK Association of Women Judges Meg gave the following speech.


Good morning.


I am pleased to be here, in front you, for the 2nd time this year hopefully for all the right reasons. I was very pleased to be able to speak before the northern region of your Association in January and to be here this morning in Birmingham.


This year marks the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade within the British Empire. The Slave Trade Act of 1807 was the result of a long campaign by a small group of MPs, religious leaders, and far-sighted people which grew into a large popular movement. The ending of slavery itself didn’t begin until 1833.


As the Minister for Women I was especially struck by the vital role that women played in the campaign to abolish slavery, although they themselves lacked even the right to vote. The campaign techniques they used then were to re-appear, and be used to great effect, during the struggle for women’s suffrage.


As the anti-slavery campaign gained popularity, many women - ranging from the Whig aristocrat, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, to the Bristol milk-woman Ann Yearsley - published anti-slavery poems and stories. Yearsley's patron, Hannah More, was a member of a group of evangelicals associated with the anti-slavery campaign. So, it is fitting that Hannah More is featured on a set of Royal Mail Stamps due to be issued this year to commemorate the Bicentenary.


Still Bound by Slavery

There are clear links between the struggles for justice 200 years ago, and our steps to tackle discrimination in Britain, and the various forms of slavery in the world today.  The Government wants to ensure that while we commemorate the past, we also have the best legacy from the bicentenary to use when focusing on what we need to do when tackling:

?         the inequality, discrimination and racism that exists today,

?         the grinding poverty and inequality on the African continent, and

?         modern day slavery in all its forms.


In 2005 the International Labour Organisation estimated that at least 12.3 million women, men and children were bound by slavery around the world. Of this 2.4 million will have been trafficked - many women or girls for the sex trade.


You will be aware of the hidden problem of Forced Marriage. The number of victims is not known, but the Forced Marriage Unit has dealt with over 1000 cases over the last 4 years in this country. Most of what we know of human trafficking relates to trafficking for sexual exploitation, servitude or organ donation. But there are still gaps in our knowledge about this underground and vicious system of modern day slavery.


Trafficking into the UK

Here in the UK we receive people mainly from Eastern Europe, especially Lithuania, the Balkans, and the Far East. A 3 month UK police operation combating trafficking gangs last year called “Operation Pentameter”, suggested that there is an increase of African women and children being trafficked into this country.


The UK Plan for combating Human Trafficking builds on the ‘EU Action Plan on Trafficking’ developed whilst the UK held the Presidency of the European Union. It focuses on measures where coordinated EU-level action can have a real impact in the fight against people trafficking, including common standards for data collection, increased sharing of intelligence and EU-wide information campaigns. Our strategy encompasses legislation, law enforcement activity, prevention measures and targeted support to the victims.


Last August we opened the UK Human Trafficking Centre in Sheffield. The centre, the first in Europe, was proposed by the Association of Chief Police Officers following ‘Operation Pentameter’. One of the aims of this new Human Trafficking Centre is to provide the victim-centred approach which was a feature of ‘Operation Pentameter’. In that operation police forces were asked to provide local support services for victims of trafficking by developing local partnerships with appropriate service providers.


The Prime Minister recently announced the Government’s intention to sign the Council of Europe convention for trafficking. This will provide minimum standards of protection and support, whilst also providing a framework for enhanced provision for victims of sexual exploitation and forced labour, many of whom are women. 


Our successful Poppy scheme is already providing a supportive and protective environment in which victims can receive care and support. To date the Poppy Project has supported 149 women whilst they recover from their ordeal. Last year we entered into a £2.4 million funding agreement for this project to provide 25 crisis places, 10 resettlement places and the first ever outreach service for UK victims of trafficking.


Forced Labour and Debt

Many people who end up in forced labour do so because of debt.  Poor workers, with no assets, take out loans to pay for basic survival needs for their family and become indebted to their landlords or employers. Those who get trapped in debt bondage are often from communities who are already discriminated against because of their ethnic origin or because they are migrant workers.


We support long-term programmes to help tackle the underlying causes of poverty, including social exclusion and conflict. These programmes include:

?         supporting the implementation of core labour standards and the work of the International Labour Organisation,

?         supporting poverty reduction strategies through Country Assistance Plans. The UK has doubled its aid budget since 1997 and pushed for a renewed global commitment to the Millennium Development Goals. 


Forced Marriages

Forced marriage is an abuse of human rights that dehumanises people by denying them their right to choose how to live their lives. It is not solely an issue facing Asian communities. Many involve the Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian communities, but others involve Middle Eastern, Far Eastern, African, South American and Eastern European communities.


The minimum age for marriage entry clearance has been raised from16 to 18 to give those who face forced marriage extra time in which to mature and resist familial pressure to sponsor unwanted spouses to the UK.


In January 2005 the Government launched an innovative joint Home Office/Foreign Commonwealth Office Force Marriage Unit - a step in the joined up thinking and working so essential for tangled cases such as these. Since its launch, the Forced Marriage Unit has operated a helpline and assists approximately 300 people a year, including around 75 repatriations.


Closing remarks

This Bicentenary of the ending of the slave trade gives us an opportunity to reflect on the past, to pay tribute to the courage and moral conviction of those who campaigned against the odds for its abolition. It should also make us more aware of the different modern day forms of slavery, whether abroad or in our own towns and cities.


But tackling human trafficking in the UK is not just for Government, not just for the police and the criminal justice system. We must involve communities, they need to understand the issues and work together on this problem. The best way of moving forward is together, bringing different perspectives to bear on the difficult issues involved. By working together we can ensure effective action brings the same result today that the anti-slavery campaign achieved in the past.


Thank you.

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