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1 October 2015, 17:46
New laws to tackle human trafficking and better protect its victims have been passed by the Scottish Parliament.
The Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill strengthens existing criminal law against the practice and enhances the status of and support for victims.
The Bill creates a specific offence of human trafficking for the first time as well as increases the maximum penalty for offenders to life imprisonment.
Under the proposals, prosecutors will be given guidance from the Lord Advocate setting out a presumption against prosecution in cases where trafficked people have been forced into committing crime.
The legislation also commits Scottish ministers to publishing and updating a human trafficking strategy.
Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said: "Human trafficking and exploitation is a brutal form of organised crime in which adults and children are treated as commodities and ruthlessly exploited for criminal gain, and there is no place for it in a modern Scotland.
"The Bill will clarify and strengthen criminal law by introducing a new and comprehensive single human trafficking offence.
"It gives Scotland's law enforcement agencies further tools in their locker to bring those responsible for human trafficking and exploitation to justice.
"The Bill ensures adult victims of trafficking will now have a statutory entitlement to support and assistance that meets their individual needs.''
The legislation also places a duty on ministers to ensure there is a guardian service available for child victims.
"At a time when many children across the world are being displaced as a result of conflict, poverty and persecution, and may fall with a victim to trafficking or exploitation, it seems timely that we are taking these steps to further support young victims of trafficking in Scotland,'' Mr Matheson said.
Labour's Jenny Marra said the passing of the Bill was a "proud moment'' for Holyrood.
The legislation has raised awareness of human trafficking while a consultation on the proposed law received more than 50,000 responses - the third highest of any Holyrood bill, Ms Marra said.
She welcomed the duty on ministers to publish a three-yearly anti-slavery strategy.
"Today is not the end of a process, it is simply the first day in our fight against trafficking in Scotland,'' she said.
Ms Marra called for training for health workers and social workers to help them identify trafficking victims, and for police officers to have an understanding of the crime so they can "see it, investigate it and refer it up through the legal system''.
"Only when our communities are robust like this will the traffickers take note and consider Scotland too risky a place for their crime and human-rights abuses,'' she said.
Conservative MSP Margaret Mitchell said: "This Bill becomes all the more pertinent given the all too familiar harrowing refugee crisis.''
She welcomed changes to the Bill which extend the provision of a guardian to children vulnerable to trafficking.
"Of the thousands of refugees and migrants now travelling in horrendous circumstances to Europe, it is estimated that one in four of these people are children who are not accompanied by an adult,'' she said.
"These same children are being targeted by traffickers, so in these circumstances it is essential that we do absolutely everything we can to give them the protection they both need and have the right to expect.
"This makes the ability to provide them with a guardian all the more pressing.''