I welcome the opportunity to speak to the motion today. It builds on a motion that David McNarry tabled some time ago. That highlighted the issue then, and it is appropriate that the House debates the issue again.
We are told that, every year, human trafficking accounts, on a global scale, for around 2 million to 4 million people who are trafficked outside of their borders or internally in their own country. If we put it in that perspective, the scale of the crime that is being committed is atrocious. The nature of the crime is atrocious for the individuals who are being brought in to that type of criminal activity.
There are four main reasons why people are trafficked: sexual exploitation, forced labour, domestic servitude and the harvesting of human organs. Thankfully, Northern Ireland, to date, has not had an example of trafficking due to the harvesting of organs. Shamefully, however, there have been incidents in Northern Ireland of the other three, primarily in regard to sexual exploitation.
The issue is not unique to Northern Ireland; it is a global phenomenon. Many countries across the world have to introduce new legislation or amend existing legislation, particularly immigration laws, to close the loopholes that are being exploited by organised criminals. When the police came to the Justice Committee, they told us that they were satisfied that the existing legislation in Northern Ireland is strong enough to enable them to carry out their job. If it is necessary for further legislation to be brought in, beyond complying with the EU directive, I believe that everyone in the House will be willing to put that legislation through the House. To date, however, the police have said that it is not necessary.
The police are dealing with the issue. It is an issue that should unite us, but I cannot ignore the comments that came from the Member for South Down Caitríona Ruane. She said that the police had turned a blind eye to the issue. That is a shameful comment. On an issue like this, when we should be united, she cannot hide her feelings towards the police. The police told the Committee that police officers have spent sleepless nights worrying about individuals who are being exploited as a result of human trafficking, so the comment that was made by the individual earlier in the debate was regrettable.
The true extent of the problem in Northern Ireland is still unknown. Five years ago, the issue was not on the radar. Sadly, today, it is becoming more and more prevalent. A piece of work needs to be done to truly identify how serious the problem is. Last year, 23 victims who had been involved in human trafficking were rescued. Five of them had been involved in forced labour and 18 had been sexually exploited. The majority of those rescued were from the Chinese community. That demonstrates that some of the organised gangs involved are local to Northern Ireland. However, organised criminal gangs are involved on a global scale, and gangs have been operating from Asia, mainland Europe and the UK mainland, not just from Northern Ireland. That example demonstrates the scale of the problem and the range of individuals involved.
The Justice Committee takes the issue seriously. This week, the Committee will be briefed again on how the Department handles those issues, and I know that it also takes the issue seriously. Ultimately, a criminal offence is being committed by the gangs who exploit individuals, but the demand is created by ordinary people. It shows the absolute depravity of some in our community that they involve themselves, particularly in prostitution. Individuals are trafficked and then forced into prostitution — they have no choice. It was shocking to hear the police tell us that the age of those involved ranged from teenagers to people in their 70s. It is just disgusting that such a spectrum of individuals feels that that type of activity is acceptable.