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After a debate that ran late into the night, the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill proposed by Lord Morrow has passed the consideration stage in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
This is an area of policy we have been working on for the last few years and we are excited that the Bill has made it to this stage. While no Bill is perfect, and legislation can only take us so far, this is a significant step in the right direction and will lead to Northern Ireland becoming a world leader in tackling human trafficking.
Firstly we commend Lord Morrow, Minister David Ford, the Justice Committee and officials at the Department of Justice for all their hard work. The Bill has been rigorously debated in the media, at committee stage and now on the floor of the Assembly. We also want to particularly highlight the key role of our member organisation CARE. As many of you will know they were instrumental in bringing this Bill about and we want to publicly acknowledge their determination and hard work.
With your help we have also shaped the bill around key provisions like sentencing, judicial discretion, clause 6, victim services and practical support for people leaving prostitution. Much of the debate in the media centred on whether or not to outlaw prostitution, but the Bill is about so much more than this. There are clauses to raise awareness, help people exit prostitution, offer support for victims and to toughen sentencing. As members of the All Party Group on Human Trafficking and the Department of Justice Engagement Group, we have been advocating and shaping policy in this area for some time. It is exciting to see legislation forming which has the potential to challenge and change culture and help those most in need. This is ‘unfinished business’ for Christians, carrying on the work of William Wilberforce to this day.
Again with your help we are pursuing a vision for Northern Ireland where human life and dignity – the essence of what it is to be made in the image of God - are protected from beginning to end. From abortion to trafficking, as well as dealing with the conflict in Northern Ireland, we want to see strong policies which value relationships and wellbeing - creating flourishing communities. This means that we draw very careful lines between freedom and responsibility and the false dichotomy of moral issues and social justice issues.
While some opinions will vary, it was great to see Sinn Fein and the DUP uniting with Woman’s Aid and evangelicals to send out a clear message that people should not be bought or sold. We celebrate the wide reaching protections and support for those who have been trafficked, enslaved and exploited. We celebrate the bravery and vision of our MLAs in passing this Bill. It is a bold commitment to the most vulnerable.
Please pray that the Bill will pass through it final stages smoothly and that it will make a difference on the ground as it becomes law.