New Dimensions in Human Trafficking

What victims pass through in the hands of human traffickers who have now upgraded the crime to big time cross-border trade

|  By Vincent Nzemeke  |  Dec. 9, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT

ON August 24, 2012, Anthonia Egbuna, a Nigerian prostitute in Italy was murdered by her lover who is still at large. Egbuna’s death made headlines because it happened barely a week after Edith Edema, another Nigerian prostitute was murdered by a man in Milan, Italy. After several weeks of investigation, the Italian police said Egbuna and Edema were murdered as a result of disagreements with the human trafficking syndicates that brought them to Italy.

Also in the same year, Anne Onyema, a 16-year-old Nigerian girl, walked into the Glasgow offices of the Scottish Refugee Council. She told officials at the office of how she had been deceived into coming to the United Kingdom from the Nigerian city of Warri by a family friend who specialises in human trafficking.  She reported that she had been raped, held prisoner and then sold to men as a sex slave.

Like Onyema, Helen Monele was lucky to have escaped from a human trafficking syndicate in Italy in August 2013. On arrival at the Murtala International Airport, Lagos, Monele told newsmen that she was offered a chance to work in Germany as a hairdresser by a relative. Instead of Germany, she was taken to Italy. When she got to Italy, she was told that she would have to earn 90 million Lire, which is equivalent to 50,000 dollars by working as a prostitute in order to buy her freedom. At the rate of 30, 000 lire per encounter, Monele would have had to go to bed with at least 3,000 clients in order to raise the money if she had not escaped through the help of an Italian charity organisation.

Strange as these revelations appear, they paint a clear picture of the reality of human trafficking in Nigeria. What started as a simple business of going abroad in search of a better life has now become a money spinning venture for many people in Nigeria. It is one problem that has continued to pose serious challenges to the development of the country.

In February 2010, a report published by New York Times newspapers stated that there were at least 15, 000 Nigerian prostitutes working on the streets of Italy and other countries in Europe. The report added that more than half of the prostitutes might have been lured to run away from home under false pretences and a promise of a better life which never materialised.


Recent statistics also revealed that about 45,000 Nigerian women are trafficked to Europe yearly to engage in a dehumanising means to eke a living. While men are forced into drug peddling and other crimes, women are forced into prostitution while young children are moved across borders to mainly Gabon and Benin Republic where they are used as cheap labour.

Cases of human trafficking have become very rampant in Nigeria despite the efforts of government and other stakeholders to eradicate it. Those involved in the business are also devising more sophisticated ways of expanding it. With every passing day, traffickers are becoming more organised thereby making the fight an herculean task.

What is particularly disturbing is that human trafficking has now become trans-border trade. That explains why the media are awash with harrowing reports of the interception of lorry loads of kids being moved into modern day slavery in neighbouring countries.

Some families knowingly and willingly permit their children to engage in the 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 hazardous journey to Europe where they end up as prostitutes.  If successful, earnings from such trade are thereafter sent back home.

Worried that the problem was getting out of control, the federal government proposed a bill to the National Assembly with the aim of tackling the menace. The bill proposes a jail term of between five to seven years for anyone found guilty of the crime.

The draft of the bill which was approved during one of the federal executive council, FEC,  meetings in January 2013, following a memorandum presented by Mohammed Bello Adoke, attorney-general of the federation and minister of justice. The memorandum sought approval for the bill entitled ‘Trafficking in Persons, Prohibition, Enforcement and Administration bill, 2013.’

Adoke had argued that the existing legal framework for addressing the subject matter, which is the Trafficking in Persons, Prohibition Law Enforcement and Administration Act, 2003, is fraught with deficiencies and grossly inadequate to effectively combat the scourge of human trafficking in the country.

According to the memorandum, several provisions in the existing law are not consistent with the requirements of the trafficking in persons protocol, supplementing the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime of 2000.

The memorandum explained that “the principal objective of the current bill is to repeal and cure the defects in the existing law and reposition the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, NATIP, for effective delivery on its mandate and provide for a more comprehensive legal and institutional framework for the prohibition, prevention, detection, prosecution and punishment of human trafficking offences in Nigeria.”The bill which has now been passed into law has already repositioned NAPTIP and is yielding results.

Backed by the law, NAPTIP became the country’s focal point in the fight against trafficking in persons and its associated social problems. The law establishing the agency prescribes different punishments ranging from twelve months to life imprisonment for offences such as slavery, exportation or importation of girls under the age of 18 years for prostitution and other illicit businesses.

Since the passage of the bill, NAPTIP has successfully arrested and prosecuted some persons involved in human trafficking. The organisation has also gone as far as rehabilitating victims of human trafficking and helping some of them set up business in Nigeria. It has gone as far as launching a trust fund to support the victims of human trafficking in the country. At a meeting of the African Regional Consultation on the Rights to an Effective Remedy for Trafficked Persons in Abuja, on Thursday, November 21, Adoke re-emphasised that the federal government is committed  to helping victims of human trafficking.

Represented by Abdullahi Yola, Adoke said the law establishing the agency for combating trafficking in persons was in conformity with the provisions of trafficking in persons protocol, TIPP. “The law establishing the agency is substantially in conformity with the provisions of the Trafficking in Persons Protocol, particularly, in relation to the principle of non-criminalisation of victims. At the heart of our anti-trafficking strategy is human rights-based approach, to ensure adequate promotion and protection of the rights of trafficked persons. Adoke also said that government established the victims of trafficking trust fund to provide humanitarian and financial aid to victims.

“In addition, the federal executive council had, since 2008, approved the national policy for the protection of trafficked persons to provide uniform guidelines for all stakeholders in Nigeria, involved in providing assistance to trafficked persons. The need to recognise the right to effective remedy for trafficked persons is beyond debate.” Adoke said there was need for the provision of incentives for victims to support law enforcement efforts at tracking down perpetrators of such crime. The minister said the struggle for economic survival was a factor promoting human trafficking, stressing the need for governments at all levels to improve the lives of all Nigerians.

He said that there was also the need to close gaps observed in the implementation of the draft report of trafficking in persons’ protocol, in relation to victims’ protection and assistance. “While we acknowledge that states have a responsibility toward victims in this regard, cognizance must be taken of the fact that it is the economic challenges that have exacerbated the problem of trafficking across the globe. We cannot therefore realistically demand too much from the states in the midst of scarce resources.”

Adoke added that it was important to make a clear distinction between the responsibility of the perpetrators of the criminal act of trafficking and the states as it would appear that the principles as presently elaborated have left the states and the criminals at the same pedestal on the issues of compensation. “In addition, we would like to suggest the need to critically evaluate the issue of cooperation with victims of trafficking. This is an essential requirement for effective investigation of trafficking cases, and would boost international efforts to dismantle trafficking networks.”

Beatrice Jedy-Agba, executive secretary, National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons and Other Related Matters, said the scourge of human trafficking has affected countries in varying degrees. She said no responsible government would allow human trafficking to continue, as its effect was continuous underdevelopment.

Joy Ezeilo, Nigeria’s special rapporteur to the UN on trafficking in persons, spoke on the traumatic experiences of victims of human trafficking in foreign countries. She highlighted access to justice as the biggest challenge, in view of the fact that victims usually went through harrowing experiences while waiting for justice.

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