x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Legal system combats modern-day slavery

Analysis In 2006, the country became the first in the region to create a legal framework to tackle human trafficking; annual reports indicate steady gains in enforcement of the law, special units and shelters for female victims.

ABU DHABI // It has been four years since the UAE became the first country in the region to create a legal mechanism to tackle human trafficking. And three annual reports later, there has been a steady increase in enforcement.

The law prescribes harsh penalties for those found guilty of modern-day slavery, including life imprisonment and fines of up to Dh1 million (US$270,000). The National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking was established by federal decree in 2007 to formulate a national strategy and co-ordinate efforts against the crime in all seven emirates. According to this year's report, the membership of the committee has expanded to include public prosecutors, law enforcement officers and representatives of shelters.

The committee attributes the rising enforcement to initiatives such as training programmes for law-enforcement personnel including, for example, how to detect potential victims. Several specialised anti-trafficking units have been created within police and public prosecution departments and at the ministries of labour and interior. There have also been improvements in the way trafficking victims are helped, according to the report. It details the support given to female victims, including the provision of temporary shelter and care at the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, which opened in 2007, and the Ewaa Shelter in Abu Dhabi.

According to the report, in 2009 the foundation cared for 33 trafficking victims, including a 12-year-old. Ewaa Shelter provided temporary refuge to at least 38 women. There are now plans to open additional shelters for victims in other parts of the country. According to Dr Anwar Gargash, the head of committee to combat human trafficking, the committee's plans include launching a media campaign to raise awareness about the crime and studying the possibility of amending the law to place increased emphasis on the protection and repatriation of victims.

That would bring it more in line with the Palermo Protocol, a UN anti-trafficking convention that was ratified by the UAE in February 2009. zconstantine@thenational.ae