Daily Champion (Lagos)

18 August 2006

Nigeria: Evils of Human Trafficking

Lagos — CLARA, 13, was picked up by her aunty having agreed with her parents that she would work as a house-help somewhere in Lagos on a salary of N7,000 and this money was to be sent to her parents in the village.

Unknown to Clara and her relatives, the aunt, who is involved in human trafficking, was to hand her over to syndicate. By the arrangement of her aunt, whose plans were to disclosed to her relatives, Clara would continue her voyage to an undisclosed distinantion as soon as she arrived.

As agreed, Clara was handed over in exchange for money, part of which was sent to her parents as salary for two years. Soon after the deal was sealed, Clara began her journey to Italy where she was forced into prostitution.

Her story typifies the known pattern in all human trafficking cases: First, persons are recruited (most often young girls and children) and they are transferred to a destination country (most Western Europe) where they are sexually exploited. In the event that this exploitation is foiled, they can then be rescued as victims of Trafficking in Persons (TIP) and then most probably repatriated to their countries of origin.

Therefore, Clara's gory experience is replicated in many young girls who have fallen prey to believable stories of fantastic offers of employment and the good life away from the poverty and drudgery of every day living in their villages. As development around the country show, many girls within her age bracket have been victims of similar gimmicks.

Those involved in the illegal trade conduct it in a seemingly decent manner and ease that thir victims do not suspect any foul play. They get the support of family members of their victims under the pretext that they aimed to upgrade the financial status of such impoverished homes. Most often the act is perpetrated by someone known to the victim or her family.

Oftentimes too, the victims are coerced, tricked, lured or out rightly forced out of the country with promise of a very bright future in the destination country which always turns out to be a fluke. Stories from repatriated victims revealed that some of them were made to swear before priests in shrines where their public hair, finger nails are cut for keeps, to make them pliant. A regional project launched in 2003 by the United Nations Office of Drug and Crime (UNODC) found in a succinct Nigerian case study that although trafficking of persons from Nigeria involved both Nigerian and nationals of other countries; it appeared that the human trafficking activities that take place in Nigeria are conducted entirely by Nigerian citizens."Those involved include recruiting agents (such as Clara's aunt), native doctors (voodoo priests) who often perform ceremonies to control the victims, lawyers who draw up debt bondage agreements, estate agents who help to launder trafficking pro ceeds through real estate transactions and travel touts and agents who provide the necessary travel documents and arrangements. Generally, foreign nationals work as temporary guides across borders or provide shelters and safe houses along the routes of harbour victims traveling by land."

This seemingly innocuous transaction has taken such dimensions that Nigerian today has been dubbed an endemic country in the trafficking of human beings. In a Citation Index drawn up by UNODC, Nigeria ranks as "very high" as an origin country, and together with Cote D'Ivoire and South Africa, they are frequently cited as destinations for victims trafficked from African countries, bringing with it negative portrayals and odium internationally.

NAPTIP

Perhaps, this propelled government to enact the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Law Enforcement and Administration Act, 2003, which also created the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons and Other Related Matters (NAPTIP).

Nigeria is the first African country to enact such a law and establish a specific agency to implement it. Since its establishment, NAPTIP, in collaboration with other law enforcement agencies, international agencies, the Italian and Belgian governments, have started working seriously towards reducing the incidence of this illicit phenomenon. According to NAPTIP, an estimated 4.5 million persons are trafficked internationally, while about 10,000 are trafficked from Nigeria annually.

Before now, many people never knew that Trafficking in Persons (TIP) and Forced Labour (FL) constituted an offence. Reactions hitherto have vacillated between ignorance and indifference.

Executive Secretary of NAPTIP, Mrs. Caroline Ndaguba says it has been difficult obtaining accurate statistics on the trafficking situation in Africa because of the nature of the illicit trade. Quoting a recent UNICEF report on the phenomenon, she says that four per cent of repatriated victims of international trafficking in Nigeria are children. The female/male ratio is seven to three.

Explaining further, she said: "46 per cent are engaged in prostitution domestic labour (21 per cent), forced labour (5 per cent) and entertainment (8 per cent). "Internal trafficking in Nigeria was also reported to be forced labour (32 per cent), domestic labour (31 per cent) and prostitution (30 per cent)."

Inadequate as the statistics may be, Ndaguba says they illustrate the magnitude of human trafficking in Nigeria and efforts that need to be made to combat the illicit trade. The Agency's interventions have been in prosecuting traffickers, rehabilitating victims, collaborating with nations and agencies to fight the scourge and generally creating awareness in the public about this new menace.

So far, she says, NAPTIP has secured the conviction of three traffickers in Benin City and Kano, while 14 other court cases have reached advanced stages of prosecution.

Memoranda

Due to the transnational nature of human trafficking, she said that NAPTIP has also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with traffickers' destination and endemic countries such as Britain, Italy, Republic of Benin and Spain.

Specifically, the MoU with the Republic of Benin, which shares a common border with Nigeria, entails joint investigation and prosecution of cases, sensitization as well as repatriation of victims. It was signed because the nation is an important source country for many children drafted into child labour.

The MoU with destination countries for sexual exploitation such as Britain and Italy are, however, different. In the case of Italy, in particular, the understanding deals with an agreement on the re-administration illegal immigrants.

A NAPTIP source says the MoUs already signed are pilots as the Agency plans to sign similar MoUs with all neighbouring African countries and destination countries in order to facilitate investigation and prosecution.

Since it remains a source, transit and destination country, Nigeria had been promoted from the 2nd Tier Watch list to 2nd Tier List in the global rating of human trafficking in endemic nations. The grading recognizes the level of effort put in by countries of fight TIP and CL.

In the case of Nigeria, it recognizes her efforts in the areas of investigation, prosecution of traffickers, public enlightenment and rehabilitation of victims."This promotion is important to us because it has removed us from the threat of possible sanctions by the U.S. Government. This means that US government can give us assistance directly without passing through the Congress," Ndaguba said.

Nonetheless, ILO Chief Technical Adviser on the Programme Against Trafficking in West Africa (PATWA), Dr. Patience Idemudia, says in order to properly wage the war against the phenomenon, there is need for an appropriate policy to link anti-trafficking to development and poverty reduction strategies in Nigeria.

She holds the view that no better vehicle can fulfill such objective, than a National Plan of Action on TIP and FL. The Plan will specifically signpost actions to be taken against TIP and FL.

A recent validation workshop for the National Plan of Action on Human Trafficking and Forced Labour recommended a multifaceted plan of action for an effective effort at combating TIP and FL.

Through studies it conducted, ILO-PATWA has built a network of actors with the aim of raising awareness on migration related risks, provide concrete alternatives for vulnerable groups, rehabilitate victims and returnees, as well as monitor migration trends room communities in Nigeria.

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