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Law Change Required To Better Protect Children From Trafficking

The Human Trafficking Research Coalition is calling for an urgent change to the Crimes Act to better protect children from trafficking and bring New Zealand into line with international law.

Chair of the Coalition, and World Vision’s Head of Advocacy, Rebekah Armstrong, will address Parliament’s Justice Select Committee tomorrow (Thursday April 14) as it considers submissions on the Child Exploitation Offences Amendment Bill.

Armstrong says the Child Exploitation Offences Amendment Bill will help to protect children in Aotearoa New Zealand from online exploitation, but further work is needed to implement changes in the Crimes Act as well.

“We consider that amendments to the Crimes Act regarding the exploitation of children need to be implemented and we think these should be considered alongside this bill. This is important for policy coherence and will help to assist New Zealand in discharging its international and domestic obligations to children,” Armstrong says.

The Coalition, made up of World Vision New Zealand and 14 other child-focused organisations, submitted an open letter calling for urgent amendments to the definition of child trafficking in New Zealand law.

Currently, child trafficking can only be prosecuted under the Crimes Act if there is evidence of “coercion or deception”.

Armstrong says there should be no need to demonstrate “coercion or deception” in child trafficking offences and it should be very clear that the consent of a child is irrelevant in such a crime.

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“The definition of child trafficking needs to be amended in the Crimes Act so that it is in line with the international definition and includes all forms of child trafficking and to ensure that perpetrators face adequate penalties,” she says

She says the limitations of the current act mean that prosecution for child trafficking offences often takes place under the Prostitution Reform Act.

The penalties available under the Prostitution Reform Act are far lower (up to seven years imprisonment) compared with the Crimes Act (14 years imprisonment).

Armstrong says this also impacts understanding of how widespread child trafficking is in New Zealand.

“It’s very difficult to understand the prevalence of child trafficking in New Zealand because the definition of this term is split between two statutes. Amendment of this law would mean greater protection for our tamariki,” she says.

New Zealand has faced international scrutiny over its child trafficking laws and the latest US Trafficking In Persons’ report stated that the New Zealand Government “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.”

“This is not the kind of international attention we want, and we should be held to account for not taking all the necessary steps to address child trafficking. The changes we are asking for would align New Zealand’s protections for children with international standards and demonstrate a true commitment to eliminating child trafficking in New Zealand. The Government has said it will consider the amendment, but we need to see action,” Armstrong says.

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