Trafficked children in Scotland are some of the most vulnerable and desperately need of a legal guardian says charity
Scotland can create “landmark” legislation to support the child victims of human trafficking, charities have said.
Ecpat UK, a charity campaigning against child exploitation, handed over a 6,000 signature petition outside the Scottish Parliament calling for existing legislation to be strengthened.
It did so as the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill entered its final debate in the parliament.
The Scottish Government brought forward the bill to strengthen existing laws against the practice and enhance the status of and support for victims.
This legislation proposes a single offence of human trafficking as well as increasing the maximum penalty for offenders to life imprisonment.
Having a guardian by their side and on their side makes a huge difference to their ability to recover from their experiences - John Wilkes
But the charity wants the legislation to include a legal guardian for trafficked children and to widen its scope to include all separated young people.
Chloe Setter, head of advocacy, policy and campaigns at Ecpat, said: "This is a landmark opportunity for MSPs to pledge their support for children, who are the most vulnerable of all to human trafficking.
"We urge them to make sure Scotland's legislation is as strong as it can be to protect all children from exploitation and punish those who seek to abuse and enslave them."
The Scottish Guardianship Service, delivered by Scottish Refugee Council and Aberlour Child Care Trust, gives refugee children who have been separated from their parents independent advice and advocacy.
They welcomed the legislation as placing a duty on ministers to provide guardianship.
Scottish Refugee Council chief executive John Wilkes said: "All children need to feel safe and this is especially true for young people who arrive in a foreign country separated from their parents and families.
"These young people arrive alone and are often confused and very frightened. Often they arrive in a state of trauma and shock because of the experiences they have fled.
"Having a guardian by their side and on their side makes a huge difference to their ability to recover from their experiences and to thrive as young people in Scotland."
Sally Ann Kelly, chief executive of Aberlour Child Care Trust, said: "The Scottish Guardianship Service, enshrined in legislation for the first time, will represent a beacon of hope and support to children and young people who, having escaped the clutches of traffickers, would have nowhere else to turn."