Despite an existing legal framework prohibiting human trafficking, the international community says Nigeria is not doing enough to fight the scourge
| By Chinwe Okafor | Sep. 9, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT
GRACE Elohor, 15, is eager to get beyond her painful past. Elohor, a victim of child trafficking was taken away from her village in Delta State by one Christie and trafficked to Gabon, via Cameroon. She was only eight years old at the time a family friend took her away after the death of her parents. “I followed Christie because my relatives were not willing to train me as a child. She promised to take care of me and send me to school. I had no choice than to follow her. We spent two days on the sea before reaching Cameroon and later Gabon, where she handed me over to a friend of hers who promised to give me the best care. I was abused, exploited, and refused education and care. I had to work by selling items like cigarettes, kola-nuts and liquor at a street corner. My two years with the woman in Gabon was very painful. I was not allowed to go to school while her children went to the best school in Gabon. I managed the few clothes that I had gone with which were almost tattered and had patches all over. I was often beaten and denied food on a daily basis. I lived under forced labour and the harsh treatment inflicted on me attracted the attention of a neighbour who called in the police to come to my rescue,” she said in tears.
Elohor’s case was reported to the Nigerian embassy in Libreville, Gabon, which facilitated the intervention of the Women Trafficking and Child Labour Eradication Foundation (WOTCLEF); a UNICEF-assisted NGO, engaged in the rehabilitation of girls trafficked abroad for either forced labour or prostitution.
Eventually, Elohor and five other Nigerian kids were rescued and flown home. It was the end of her nightmare. Although she re-established contact with her relatives and siblings, WOTCLEF found out that it would not be possible to send her back home, given the difficult situation of her family. She remained in the NGO’s shelter in Abuja, where she presently lives with other children. WOTCLEF has been supporting her education.
Like in the case of Elohor, a commercial bus conveying no fewer than 16 children suspected to be victims of child trafficking was intercepted by the police in Ebonyi State along Abakaliki-Enugu expressway on July 30. The commercial bus conveying the children between the ages of 14 and 17 was heading to Lagos and was intercepted by policemen on a stop and search exercise. The children were recruited from different parts of Izzi council area by the suspected trafficker, who assembled them at Iziogo motor park in Izzi Local Government Area for onward movement to Ilaje in Lagos and other parts of the state.
A source from the park who pleaded anonymity, said that under-age children were always transported to Lagos daily, lamenting that the children include school dropouts and those that had not gone to school at all. He said their boss claimed to be helping their poor parents by sending them to Lagos for greener pastures. These cases are not different from that of thousands of children who are victims of human trafficking in Nigeria every year. They are abused, exploited and refused education and care.
Nigeria has made significant efforts to tackle this menace with the establishment of the National Agency for Prohibition of Traffic in Persons, NAPTIP. Many dedicated non-governmental organisations, NGOs and high-profile individuals have been creating awareness and fighting against human trafficking in the country. Wemimo Ibiyemi, a teacher at Bank Anthony Junior High School, Sabo-Yaba, has counseled parents to monitor and care for their children. She also advised the students to be contended with what they have, keep the right company and not succumb to pressures from their peers. She enjoined schools to create awareness and always inform their students about the menace of trafficking in persons. “Teachers should also treat students like their children because the law of karma is constant,” she said.
Beatrice Jedy-Agba, executive secretary, NAPTIP, said the agency has come up with a five-year strategic plan. The main thrust of the plan is to boost existing synergy between stakeholders and partners involved in the anti-human trafficking crusade. “Unemployment and poverty are the major factors responsible for human trafficking and these problems ought to be addressed in a pragmatic way. The traffickers usually make false promises of a better life abroad and earning money in dollars and eventually, these girls end up becoming prostitutes to pay their so-called sponsors who took them abroad,” she added.
Zainab Maina, minister of women affairs, has identified women and children as the major victims of human trafficking. She described human trafficking as one of the worst plagues of the modern era. According to her, as long as this illicit trade flourishes, it will be difficult to achieve the goals and targets we have set for ourselves. It is often assumed that the victims of trafficking are the most vulnerable persons from poor isolated communities.
“Extant evidence shows that some of the trafficked persons are from medium-income backgrounds and that they aspire for a better life; they are usually ensnared by the traffickers’ offers of a good job and a sense of belonging. This suggests that the strategies for curbing trafficking may have to be far-reaching than what they are currently and will need to involve a wider range of stakeholders,” she said.
Sharing a similar sentiment, Abdullahi Yola, permanent secretary, ministry of justice, said that the campaign against human trafficking required a more comprehensive approach. “Urgent steps must be taken to ensure the promotion, protection and enforcement of the fundamental human rights of our citizens, irrespective of their socio-economic circumstances.” Yola said. But Yemi Akinseye-George of Nasarawa State University has called for effective implementation of the extant laws on human trafficking offences.
He said that human trafficking could not be effectively addressed without a legal framework to effectively back up the crusade. He underscored the need to put in place some measures to safeguard the rights of vulnerable persons who were trafficked. “The legal framework at the moment is the NAPTIP Act; which is called the Traffic in Persons and Prohibition Act but the law needs to be more focused in terms of objectives and sanctions. There is need for effective implementation of the legal regime, that means apart from NAPTIP, the judiciary ought to deliberately apply the law in a manner that will ensure, not just punishment but also the certainty of punishment, to deal with each of the provisions. If that is done, there will be a need for effective coordination among the agencies; the police would then hand over cases of investigation and prosecution to NAPTIP because they do not have the capacity to prosecute trafficking offences. When there is that synergy, we are on our way to a more effective regime to combat human trafficking in Nigeria,” he said.
The Nigerian government has, however, taken a tougher action against human trafficking. Labaran Maku, minister of information, said that the Executive Council of the Federation, ECF, has approved a draft Bill titled “Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition, Enforcement and Administration) Bill, 2012”, which is ready for onward presentation to the National Assembly for consideration, deliberation and passage into law. He said that any person found guilty of trafficking in human beings risks a seven-year jail term if the proposed draft Bill to check the menace scales through the legislative process in the National Assembly.
According to him, the existing legal framework of trafficking in persons (Prohibition), law Enforcement and Administration Act, 2003, as amended, is fraught with deficiencies and is also grossly inadequate to effectively combat the scourge of human trafficking in the country. He noted that several provisions in the existing law are inconsistent with the requirements of the Trafficking in Persons Protocol, Supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, (Palermo Convention) 2000, adding that the main objective of the current Bill is to repeal and cure the identified defects.
International agencies are also involved in the anti-human trafficking campaign. There have been a multitude of anti-trafficking awareness campaigns to warn migrants of the dangers of trafficking. Olufunsho Owasanoye, a member of the Board of Trustees of Child Helpline International, HDI, said that human trafficking with its attendant evils is a dangerous trend that must be stopped.
“Human trafficking is the transfer of persons by fraudulent means for exploitative purpose. Human traffickers are not always strangers, they could be relatives, neighbours or people you thought were friends. Nigeria is a source, transit and destination country for internal and external trafficking with Cross River, Edo, Akwa Ibom, Imo, Abia, Ebonyi, Kwara, Oyo, Osun, Bayelsa and Benue states as the prominent sources of internally trafficked children while Lagos, Ondo, Ogun, Akwa Ibom and Abia states are the destination states,” she said.
Owasonye, said that most trafficked children are lured with the promises of greener pastures, gifts or monetary gains by the traffickers who take advantage of the victim’s greed, poverty or ignorance. Traffickers prey on people with promises of higher incomes to improve economic situations, support parents and families in villages, and escape from war and conflict. Many victims of trafficking in persons, especially children are sucked into exploitative labour hidden from public eye such as houseboys and housemaids, factory hands, prostitution, including child/teenage prostitution and farm workers among others.
She stated that the effect of human trafficking on the victims include emotional trauma, sexual abuse, diseases like HIV/STDs, damaged reproductive organs, unwanted pregnancy and mental sickness. She counseled students to be cautious of the information they give on social media and to always speak out and seek appropriate counsel when they are enticed.
However, the United States government has described Nigerians as major contributors to the trafficking of human beings, noting that little was being done by the Federal Government to curb the illegal act. John Kerry, U.S. secretary of State, said that more efforts need to be made so as to enable Nigeria move up to the ‘Tier 1’ status. “Nigeria is yet to meet the basic minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking and related offences. In the 2013 Trafficking in Persons, TIP, report, Nigeria remained within the ‘Tier 2’ category because the report stressed that the Federal Government had not fully complied with the required minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking,” Kerry said.