Time to turn off the red light

billboardartworkThere’s growing support for calls to make buying sex illegal.

When I got married a good friend of mine, who travelled a lot in south east Asia, asked if I’d like a carpet as a wedding present. When I said this was extraordinarily generous, he explained that good

quality rugs could be got quite cheaply in Pakistan and north India.

Tempting though it was, this set alarm bells ringing in my head and I asked him about child labour. He replied that, though he’d do his best, it was impossible to be 100% sure in that part of the world. Come the big day, I was happy to receive a couple of European-made table lamps.

Few of us shop ethically on every occasion. But you don’t have to be an active trade unionist to recoil from child labour. It’s so sensitive that even some high street stores have responded to their consumers’ desire to feel confident that the clothes on their backs are not made by kids.

We’re uncomfortable with the idea of child-produced tee-shirts, trainers and rugs. What about sex?

Billboard ads launched by Turn Off the Red Light (TORL) today feature ‘Anna’, who was first forced into prostitution when she was 14. The campaign draws on Department of Justice figures, which confirm that authorities became aware of eight children trafficked into Ireland for sexual exploitation last year, with 15 detected in 2010. The nature of the sex-trafficking business means this is almost certainly the tip of the Iceberg.

The Turn Off the Red Light launch comes in the same week that Ruhama, an organisation that helps women in prostitution, confirmed that prostitution was “a reality for children as young as 14 years old.” Its annual report also confirmed that almost half the women it helped had been trafficked into Ireland for prostitution.

Turn Off the Red Light points to research showing that 75% of women in prostitution became involved when they were children. It gives examples of kids trafficked into the Irish sex trade. Like 15-year-old Angelle, who arrived from Nigeria and was told that she owed €65,000 to her traffickers before being forced into prostitution six days a week to pay off the ‘debt’.

The coalition of over 50 organisations including leading trade unions like IMPACT, representative bodies, political parties, human rights groups and victim support networks, wants to win public support to end prostitution and sex trafficking in Ireland by making it an offence to pay for sex.

Support is growing for the call to amend the 1993 Sexual Offences Act to criminalise the purchase of sex, while decriminalising those who sell sexual acts. Campaigners say this approach has halved the rate of prostitution in Sweden, where it was introduced ten years ago. The Government consultation ends this month and campaigners want people to support the campaign by contacting their local TD or making a short submission to the consultation.

Writing in the Ruhama annual report, its chief executive Sarah Benson says this: “No parent thinks of prostitution as a viable positive choice for their child and yet these women and girls are bought and sold for the sexual satisfaction of a minority of Irish men in every corner of Ireland.”

If our laws are a reflection of our values, it’s time to change the law to make buying sex illegal.

Bernard Harbor

You can get details of how to make a submission to the consultation on Ireland’s HERE.