The Federal Executive Council (FEC) recently approved a new draft bill aimed at giving more teeth to existing laws against human trafficking.
Minister of Information, Mr Labaran Maku said at the end of the FEC session last week that the anti-human trafficking bill, presented to the meeting by the Ministry of Justice, had been approved for transmission to the National Assembly. He explained that the bill prescribed up to seven year's jail term for offenders. The proposed legislation is expected to amend sections of the existing Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition), law Enforcement and Administration Act, 2003, now considered to be deficient in tackling the scourge. The government expects the revamped law to eliminate or vastly reduce the trafficking and abuse of young Nigerians. And about time too! The National Assembly should speedily work on and pass it into law as quickly as possible.
Rather than abate, human trafficking, both at the domestic and international levels, continues to flourish in Nigeria. According to statistics, 45,000 Nigerian women are trafficked to Europe yearly to engage in dehumanising means of early a living, like prostitution, forced on them by barons while young children are moved across borders to mainly Gabon and Benin Republic to provide cheap labour by criminal networks. What is particularly disturbing is that focus is shifting from trans-border trade in adults to impressionable young people, because they are easier to exploit and manipulate. That is why, almost on a regular basis, Nigeria is confronted with harrowing reports of the interception of lorry loads of kids packed like sardines being moved to virtual slavery in neighbouring countries, or even destinations in Nigeria. The socio-economic consequences of this ugly trend to the country are enormous. It is certainly time to effectively curb the menace and robustly protect women and children who are the vulnerable targets of predators engaged in this form of crime.
Human trafficking is a global problem; so the international community must be actively involved in confronting the challenge squarely through concerted efforts. These should aim at exposing the syndicates behind the evil business. Much cooperation is particularly required from countries that are frequently associated with international prostitution for the fight to achieve any meaningful success. While the proposed anti -human trafficking law in Nigeria is a positive move, the seven-year jail term for convicted offenders is certainly not commensurate punishment. The National Assembly should exercise its powers and stiffen the provision for penalty that will effectively deter unscrupulous individuals who engage in the crime. Most importantly, however, is the issue of attacking the problem from the root.
Deepening poverty levels nationwide are often cited as constituting some of the main reasons why people engage in the practice, and why it is difficult to curtail it. Some families knowingly and willingly permit their children to engage in cross-border illicit trade with the hope that doing so would reduce their economic burden. In other instances, parents encourage their female children to embark on the sometimes hazardous journey to Europe where they end up as prostitutes or virtual slaves. Earnings from such trade are thereafter sent back home. The need might be to build a house; pay for the education of siblings; or simply to aspire into a higher social class. It is saddening that the materialistic nature and covetousness of individuals would constitute such a societal problem with international implications. The problem is such a deep-seated one that laws alone cannot be expected to solve it.
Government should also do its bit, by playing the role expected of creating the environment that allows individual enterprise to flourish. Opportunity for education is one avenue.
The proposed amendment should provide for sustained mass enlightenment in schools and in public generally on the ills and hazards of human trafficking.