BERLIN — Back in 1807, the British thought their new legislation would wipe out human slavery. Today, the British Home Office Monday announced a legislative effort to crack down on what looks to be a far from dead practice.
The bill targets those who've trapped an estimated 2,000 to 10,000 modern slaves inside the United Kingdom.
The Home Office on its website published a “draft bill” for consideration by Parliament that would increase prison terms for first time offenders to 14 years, and for those with histories of violence, to life.
In announcing the bill, British Home Secretary Theresa May issued a statement noting: “The bill will simplify legislation, toughen sentences for slave drivers, and enable the courts to restrict activity where individuals may be at risk. This will mean that more traffickers are pursued, disrupted and brought to justice.”
May’s statement began by noting that modern slavery “is an appalling crime.” In the bill package itself, she defined the need for a new bill by writing: “Modern slavery encompasses human trafficking, slavery, forced labor and domestic servitude.”
Still, the bill goes on to note “Our current understanding of the exact scale of the problem is limited.”
May explains that the current system for tracking victims saw a 25 percent increase in reported cases in 2012, bringing the total to “1,186 potential victims.”
She added “Of these, 786 were females and 400 were males; 815 were adults and 371 were children.”
But, May makes it clear in the report, “these are just the cases we know about. We believe there are many more unseen and unheard victims.”
British Labour Party Member of Parliament Frank Field, a strong supporter of a new anti-slavery law, has in past estimated the actual number of slaves in the U.K. might be 10,000.
On his website, he issued a statement supporting the new bill writing: “We thought we had ended slavery in the 19th century with Wilberforce’s 1807 Slave Trade Act. In fact, we only pushed it underground. Modern slavery exists behind front doors, in factories and farms, in brothels and on the streets.”
And he went on to note that the numbers are too high for a just society to consider modern slavery anything less than a priority.
“The EU estimates that almost a million people are enslaved in Europe,” Field wrote. “In Britain, Vietnamese boys are forced to work on cannabis farms, Nigerian women held in domestic servitude, Polish and British men used as forced labourers and British and East European girls trafficked into prostitution.”
He noted that slavery is the “second most profitable illicit activity in the world (worth at least $32 billion).” Field noted that no nation has beaten slavery alone, and urged that the money made in this illegal activity be seized and used to both fight the crime and aid the victims.
“It is difficult to think of any crime, short of murder or rape, that has such a destructive impact,” Field added, then later continued. “Life sentences must also be the norm in most serious slavery cases.”
The draft bill notes that the single largest source of modern slaves in the U.K. is Nigeria, though they come from many other places, as well. In fact, the report notes that there were 33 reported cases of local slaves in 2012.
British press reports noted that the legislation follows a couple headline grabbing cases of slavery, both in England.
A week ago, three apparent slaves were rescued during police raids in Bristol and Gloucestershire. And a month ago, police found three women who apparently had been kept as slaves for up to 30 years.
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