Britain vows to crack down on slavery after women's rescue

Tue Dec 3, 2013 11:58am EST
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By Belinda Goldsmith

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain vowed on Tuesday to step up its fight against modern-day slavery, warning that the discovery last month of three women imprisoned for 30 years in horrific conditions in London was just the tip of the iceberg.

Home Secretary Theresa May said police last week rescued a further 17 people in Leeds, northern England, mainly Slovakians, who were living in poor housing with no access to local support services while forced to work long hours for little or no pay.

Speaking at an international women's rights conference, she said there had never been a more urgent need to tackle modern slavery which can include human trafficking, forced labor and marriage, sexual exploitation and domestic servitude.

"We all know that there are countless more examples of this hidden crime at this very second, in this very country," May told the second annual Trust Women conference, organized by the Thomson Reuters Foundation and International New York Times.

"This is simply unacceptable in modern day Britain."

May said it was impossible to know the true scale of modern slavery in the UK or other countries as it was a hidden crime and many victims suffered in silence, too scared to speak out.

The inaugural global slavery index released by the charity Walk Free in October estimated there are almost 30 million people living in slavery, with almost half of those in India.

The index suggested at least 4,400 people were enslaved in Britain with May adding the number of potential victims reported last year to Britain's National Referral Mechanism set up to identify human trafficking victims rose by 25 percent to 1,200.   Continued...

Britain's Home Secretary Theresa May gestures during her keynote address on the second day of the Conservative party annual conference in Manchester, northern England September 30, 2013. REUTERS/Phil Noble