LONDON, Feb 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Better support for victims of modern slavery and growing public awareness of the crime have helped Scotland boost the number of cases reported to police, the government said on Monday.
Scottish police saw a surge in suspected human trafficking cases last year, with authorities receiving 213 referrals, up 42 percent from 2016, according to government figures.
Cases involving labour exploitation saw the sharpest jump and made up over half of those reported to police in 2017. Nearly 30 percent of cases involved children, the data showed.
Authorities said the rise in cases was due to better understanding of human trafficking, after Scotland introduced a national strategy last year aimed at stamping out the crime.
"An increase in the number of trafficking referrals in Scotland suggests that we are getting better at identifying and reporting victims of trafficking," Scottish Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said in a statement.
Britain is regarded as a leader in global efforts to combat slavery, having made it a crime in 2015 through a landmark law.
The Modern Slavery Act introduced life sentences for traffickers, forced companies to address the risk of forced labour, and better protects people at risk of being enslaved.
However only parts of the law apply to Scotland, which passed its own similar anti-trafficking legislation in 2015.
Last year, Scotland introduced a separate national strategy to tackle trafficking, which often traps victims in sexual exploitation, forced labour or domestic servitude.
The strategy aims to improve access to healthcare, housing and legal aid for those who say they have been trafficked.
Unlike the rest of Britain, Scotland has enshrined victim support into its legislation. It also said last year the period of time that victims could access care would be extended from April to 90 days, double the time frame offered across Britain.
"Scotland at the moment has the strongest anti-slavery law in Britain," Jakub Sobik, a spokesman for Anti-Slavery International, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"Victims have a guarantee of being supported."
Victim support is not currently embedded into the Modern Slavery Act, and advocates are pushing for such provisions, arguing they are needed to stop victims from falling back into exploitation.
At least 13,000 people in Britain are estimated by the government to be victims of modern slavery - but police say the true figure is likely to be in the tens of thousands.
(Reporting by Ana Ionova. Editing by Robert Carmichael. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights. Visit http://news.trust.org/)
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