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Irish charity trains hotel staff to spot markers of child trafficking

Between 2009 and 2016, there were 512 victims of human trafficking identified in Ireland – 143 were children.

Image: Shutterstock/luchunyu

A PROJECT RUN by an Irish charity has, for the last five years, been training hotel staff across the country to spot signs of child trafficking in their workplaces.

Mecpaths, which is a project run by the Congregation of The Sisters of Mercy, was founded after two members of the congregation attended a UN conference on global human trafficking. They heard examples of child trafficking from around the world, specifically through hotel and private apartment networks.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, JP O’Sullivan, research coordinator for Mecpaths, said the project’s work in Ireland is “preventative rather than reactive”. However, there are many examples in the US and through Asia of hotels and serviced apartments being used as bases for child sexual exploitation.

The project aims to prepare hotel staff here so they can spot the signs so that this practice can never thrive in Ireland.

“We regard them as the eyes and the ears of prevention on the ground. We will also speak to them as part of the training about how to report safely – that means always liaising directly with the gardaí.”

There are a number of indicators, they could vary from the child being dispondant, exhibiting fearful or anxious behaviour to them dressing very differently from the adults they are with. We tell people to keep an eye on, for example, somebody who may have the ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door for a week and there may be excessive foot traffic to the room at unusual hours.
There may also, in a room a child is in, be large amounts of alcohol or the presence of drugs. We tell them to keep an eye out for the use of technology – multiple laptops, credit card swipe machines, camera equipment – where a child is present.

“What we say around the indicators is not to take any independently, but if staff members feel there is something wrong, then there usually is, “O’Sullivan explained.

Between 2009 and 2016, there were 512 victims of human trafficking identified in Ireland – 143 were children.

“Gardaí would even say that’s the tip of the iceberg because it’s so underground and it’s not just located in the cities, it’s happening in rural areas as well,” said O’Sullivan.

Source: Julie McCoy

He said hotels have been very responsive to this work, with hotel group Prem Grouprolling the training out to 500 staff in Ireland. The group won an award for the provision of this training last year.

O’Sullivan said Mecpaths recognises the growing popularity of private rental accommodation like Airbnb among tourists and how this type of property could more easily facilitate traffickers’ activity as there is no hotel staff to keep watch.

“That’s on the agenda for the coming years, we’re working through a three-year strategic plan and further down the line, we will be looking at more private accommodation.”

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