More needs to be done to tackle child trafficking in Wales

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Aled Edwards

The horrors of modern trafficking are significant and growing. At the world’s border crossing points for vulnerable migrants, especially those fleeing persecution, there are always vulnerable children.

In such places, there are also traffickers ready to buy and sell them. Enslaving children also happens within borders.

But this is not a crime confined to the developing world or war zones. Trafficked children and money made from trafficking are found in European nations.

Europol’s 2018 report into child trafficking was horrific in what it revealed. The European Union’s Agency for Law Enforcement Corporation provided the most comprehensive picture yet on how people sell children, even their own, to international criminal networks.

Cases reported to Europol involved networks escorting non-EU child victims across entire routes from their country of origin.

The numbers involved are striking. UNICEF estimated in 2018 that about 28% of identified victims of global trafficking are children. In 2016 Europol estimated that some 10,000 migrant children had gone missing in Europe over a two year period.

In the UK, it was estimated in 2018 that around a quarter of the trafficked children who were in the care of local authorities went missing. Some may have returned into the hands of traffickers.

In Wales and England it is a legislative requirement for companies with a global turnover of £36 million to publish an annual slavery and trafficking statement.

The Welsh Government has gone further appointing an Anti-Slavery Co-ordinator and publishing an Ethical Employment in Supply Chains Code of Practice for the public sector. Wales has also made a commitment to becoming a nation of sanctuary.

But more needs to be done, particularly in order to seize the assets of child traffickers.

Probe

Child slavery takes many forms and is horrific in nature. In Italy, mobsters used shell companies to run migration centres, laundering money into their own pockets and forcing Nigerian girls in particular into prostitution.

Many children will be used in criminal enterprises where being small is an asset. Small Vietnamese children have been forced to work on UK “cannabis farms.” In India, children have been deliberately injured to enhance their begging capacity on the streets.

Russia however offers a distinctive and pervasive form of human trafficking with considerable political repercussions for the West. The collapse of the USSR in 1991 triggered pernicious regional wars in the Balkans and the Horn of Africa producing thousands of refugees and a throng of regional trafficking gangs. During the late nineties, Western democracies were compelled to host growing numbers of refugees fleeing vicious wars and genocide.

The economic collapse that followed the demise of the USSR allowed mobsters to take a hold on a country lacking in robust laws focused on countering organised crime.

Huge profits were made from schemes in the newly privatised oil and gas industries. It remains a characteristic of Russian-speaking traffickers that they sell people in the same way as they sell gas or oil.

The Russian mob or Bratva expanded westwards shortly after the collapse of the USSR. It’s alleged that the “Brainy Don” of the Russian Mafia, Semion Mogilevich, headed a multibillion-dollar crime organisation. Operating out of Moscow and Budapest, Mogilevich was implicated in the trafficking of women, often from the former USSR to Eastern Europe.

It’s believed that it was Mogilevich who sent Vyacheslav Ivankov to New York in 1992 to oversee the expansion of the Mafia into the US, embedding themselves in American lobbying and political cultures.

The recent Mueller probe into Russian interference into the 2016 Presidential Election provided a rare well investigated window into the interplay between international financial fraud, political corruption and the plight of a vulnerable populace forced into enslavement.

Mueller’s probe brought about several convictions with 34 individuals being indicted. One of them was Paul Manafort, the former chair of the Trump campaign.

Manafort has not been charged with committing any offences by Ukrainian prosecutors but his conviction for US tax and bank fraud is informative.

To the backdrop of the average Ukrainian family earning around $260 a month and 117,000 Ukrainians being forced into exploitative situations in Europe, the Middle East between 1991 and 2006, Manafort earned more than $60 million as a political consultant in Ukraine. He advised the former President Viktor Yanukovych, infamous for his over-the-top corruption.

Forced labour has now emerged as one of the most profitable criminal enterprises in the world with the International Labour Organisation estimates that it generates over $150 billion per year.

Given the sums involved, human trafficking has become a gateway crime to money laundering. It may also be having a destabilising effect on well-established democracies through the channelling of dark money.

More needs to be done to seize the assets of traffickers in Wales and England but the electorate should also be assured that monies donated to political campaigns comply with electoral law concerning foreign donations.

We need to be sure that they haven’t been tainted by one of the vilest criminal enterprises perpetuated against the world’s most vulnerable children.


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