The Church of Scotland has applauded MSPs for backing landmark legislation to tackle human trafficking with tougher penalties for those convicted and better protection for victims.

Dr Hazel Watson, a member of the Church and Society Council and convener of the Scottish Churches Anti-Human Trafficking Group, said the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Scotland) Bill would be a “powerful deterrent to this atrocious crime”.

• The Scottish Churches Anti-Human Trafficking Group is hosting a conference in St George’s Tron Church, Buchanan Street, Glasgow on October 17. It is free and open to all.

• Membership of the Scottish Churches Anti-Human Trafficking Group comes from the Churchof Scotland, Church of Scotland Guild, Minority Ethnic Christians Together in Scotland, Religious Society of Friends, Roman Catholic Church, Salvation Army, Scottish Episcopal Church, Scottish Churches Parliamentary Office and CARE, the International Justice Mission.

The legislation, unanimously backed by MSPs yesterday, will clarify and strengthen criminal law by introducing a new single human trafficking offence to bring those responsible for human trafficking and exploitation to justice – life imprisonment is a possibility – as well as guaranteeing victims support.

The Bill gives adult victims of trafficking rights to access support and assistance, similar to those already in place for child victims

It will strengthen protections for eligible vulnerable children by making independent child trafficking guardians available and requiring statutory referrals

The Bill requires Scottish Government ministers to work with other bodies to publish and keep under review a Scottish Trafficking and Exploitation Strategy.

Dr Watson said: “This will, when enacted, send a strong message to those who treat others as mere commodities for profit and their own selfish purposes.

“This new legislation will be a powerful deterrent to this atrocious crime in which victims are stripped of dignity and liberty and are forced into working for little pay in awful conditions or as prostitutes, where they are subjected to violence and acts of depravity.

“As we see it, one of the key strengths of the Bill is the recognition of the need for support of victims so that those who survive their ordeal can have the opportunity of recovering and regaining a sense of self-worth.

“We were pleased to have had the opportunity to contribute to the debate during the passage of the Bill and are delighted that it has reached this stage.”

• Full story at the Church of Scotland.