12th October 2011
I welcome the Minister of State. The impetus for this motion has been the tremendous work of the Turn Off the Red Light campaign to end prostitution and combat sex trafficking in Ireland. I commend the campaign on highlighting the intrinsic link between the demand for prostitution and the trafficking of women and girls to meet this demand. The majority of members of Turn Off the Red Light are civil society groups and NGOs that have direct experience of the devastating effects of prostitution on women, children and men throughout Ireland. These devastating effects are physical, such as sexually transmitted infections, injuries sustained as a result of beatings and rapes, gynaecological problems owing to multiple terminations of pregnancy and many other health conditions relating to prostitution. There are also mental and emotional injuries deeply embedded in the psyche of sex workers and victims of trafficking which are likely to be carried throughout their lives.
Senators Zappone and Mac Conghail have excellently outlined the views of our group, which I fully support. Therefore, in my intervention I will focus on the situation for children. As devastating as these effects are on adults, the impact is almost unimaginable for children and child victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation. I have researched with interest some of the arguments against criminalising the purchase of sex in Ireland and I find myself wholly unconvinced by them. One argument contends that criminalising the purchase of sex in an effort to curb prostitution violates a sex worker’s right to exercise self-determination over her own body. I must respectfully disagree. It is my belief that when the complex layers of how and why women and men find themselves selling their bodies for sexual gratification of others are peeled away, their paths into prostitution did not start with the simple exercise of their right to self-determination of their bodies. For those who argue that prostitution is an issue of consent, I would ask these people to be mindful that the age identified internationally for entry into prostitution is 14, an age at which consent cannot be given.
I would also like to highlight the situation for young homeless people. Focus Ireland estimates that there are as many as 1,500 young people under the age of 18 who are homeless each year in Ireland, 18% of whom are unaccompanied and one quarter of whom are under 12. There is inadequate resourcing in this area and there are an insufficient number of places for children in safe, sheltered accommodation. Some are said to be forced into prostitution. An increase in substance abuse among homeless youths, especially males, has also seen an increased recourse to prostitution and there is evidence to suggest that boys as young as 13 are involved in prostitution in Dublin city.
Separated children or unaccompanied minors are under 18 years of age, outside their country of origin and separated from both of their parents or their previous legal customary primary care giver. Separated children are an extremely vulnerable group owing to their status, the fact they may have experienced war and violence, and the danger that they have been trafficked into Ireland for sexual exploitation. There have been improvements in the situation for separated children in Ireland under the Ryan report implementation plan, and measures have been taken, such as DNA identification, to tackle false family reunifications.
However, the instances of children going missing from care are of deep concern. This morning in this very Chamber, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs told us that there are 16 cases of children missing in Ireland still outstanding in 2010 alone, and 11 of those are unaccompanied minors. There is strong anecdotal evidence that a number of these children could have been trafficked into prostitution and other forms of sexual exploitation. In September 2011, the Children’s Rights Alliance submitted to the Department of Justice and Equality’s anti-human trafficking unit collated case studies of suspected and confirmed child victims of trafficking in Ireland.
I will now briefly outline these cases which paint a picture of dreadful exploitation. They include the following: a 15-year-old Somali rescued from a brothel in 2006 having been trafficked into Ireland; a 16-year-old Nigerian girl who arrived to Ireland as a separated child in 2009 and was enticed out of HSE residential care by a man who later got her involved in prostitution; and a 16-year-old girl from Burundi, held captive in a house in County Louth and abused. She was taken from her village in Africa at the age of 12 and introduced into sex slavery in different countries before being trafficked to Ireland for more sexual exploitation.
I have also heard dreadful accounts by an NGO, which were subsequently documented, of eastern European girls as young as 14 being trafficked to Ireland, brutally and systematically raped over a number of days to “break them in” and then shipped off to various brothels around Ireland. This intolerable situation is my motivation for fully supporting the motion proposed by the Independent Group.
As Senator Zappone has already mentioned, the sex industry in Ireland is extremely lucrative. Children continue to be victims of prostitution and trafficking because it is good business for organised criminals and traffickers. After much research into this issue I firmly believe that legislation is needed. I understand that the Minister says we need a wider public debate. I would like to say I am reassured by what I have heard both from the Minister and the Government side, but I am not. We have heard a lot of nice words and good sentiments but I would like to have seen much more detail in what is being put before us. I note the six-month timeframe that is given to us and our group must still decide whether we will move this motion to a vote. We will certainly not be going away from this issue, however, because every day that passes there is a possibility of women and children being forced further into sexual exploitation in Ireland. We have to take action. We may have to allow the Minister of State some time, but it is a very short time because this is about human beings and people’s lives.