Human Trafficking: Grim Outlook Besets NAPTIP

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Despite increased efforts by the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), and other security agents towards cutting human trafficking down to its barest minimum in the country, Nigeria still remains in the ignoble Tier 2 Watch List in the US 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report. Ruth Tene Natsa writes.

The passion and zeal radiated by the Julie Okah-Donli-led National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), tell observers that there would be no hiding place or soft falls for human traffickers; even as she continues in a mission to rescue those already trafficked.

This passion was revealed when at her inaugural meeting with the media on April 27, she read a riot act to traffickers and called on the federal government to extend the whistle-blowing policy to human trafficking as a way of motivating people to expose traffickers.
Okah-Donli posited that human trafficking is a global phenomenon of serious concern that requires collective efforts to combat, because of its attendant human casualties and negative effects that characterize the migration aspect of trafficking.

She stated that the crime had moved from the era of analogue and person-to-person recruitment of victims to a well-orchestrated criminal network, designed to deceive even the best of security operatives.

As parts of efforts to curb the thriving inhumane act of human trafficking, Okah-Donli assured that the agency during her tenure shall move with vigour, techniques, skills and expertise to nab any human trafficker from the point of conceiving the idea to the point of exploitation, adding that efforts shall be made to equip operatives to detect and proactively burst any human trafficking action from the bud.

“The agency shall avail itself of the enormous benefits of modern technology to keep our eyes in the whole country and specifically the notable endemic regions to elicit prompt response and also employ the name and shame policy to ensure that those who get involved do not have a hiding place anywhere across the globe,” she said.

The NAPTIP boss revealed that since its inception, “The agency had not only performed to satisfaction, but has been able to salvage lives and future of many Nigerians, adding that the agency had received a total of 4,755 cases, investigated 3,407, rescued 10,685 victims and convicted 321 persons.

“My vision for the agency is to re-engineer this specialised crime fighting agency, that is the foremost in the suppression and elimination of trafficking in persons with specific attention on awareness creation, advocacy, enforcement of the law, capacity development as well as comprehensive rehabilitation of victims of human trafficking in order to enhance the dignity of all persons in line with international best practices,” she said.

Since her assumption she had also declared that as part of efforts to curb this heinous crime the agency is set to clamp down on illegal football academies, involved in human trafficking abroad. She noted that it had become urgent for the agency to clamp down on fake football academies because many of them are being used to promote human trafficking while their victims are often raped, but cannot come out to cry out.

Her commitment to ensure that human trafficking is drastically tackled was further shown as reports released by the agency recently revealed that operatives of the agency are now to work at the Heathrow and Gatwick Airports in the UK, temporarily.

This was the outcome of some high level meetings in London between Okah-Donli and officials of the Home Office of the United Kingdom.

In a statement signed by NAPTIP’s head of Press and Public Relations, Josiah Emerole, it stated that the joint operation which will be for a short period will see the operatives of NAPTIP working side by side with the UK Border Force and other relevant agencies at the two gateways into the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile a global report under the follow up to the International Labour Office Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work (2009), titled the Cost of Coercion, In Article 3, defined human trafficking as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments, or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control of another person.”

Similarly the Trafficked Victims Protection Act (TVPA) captures this compelled service ‘involuntary servitude, slavery, debt, bondage and forced labour.’
While human trafficking comes in different forms, the TVPA has identified the major forms of human trafficking to include forced labour, sex trafficking, bonded labour, debt bondage among migrant workers, involuntary domestic servitude, forced child labour, child soldiers and child sex trafficking.

Whatever the form, experts on various platforms have described human trafficking as another form of slavery which is totally debasing to the dignity of persons, irrespective of sex, age, colour.

The USA Department of State has defined trafficking in persons or human trafficking as an umbrella terms for activities involved when one person obtains or holds another person in compelled service.

In spite of these endless efforts by the agency to curb human trafficking and reduce it to its barest minimum, the US 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report placed Nigeria on the Tier 2 Watch List, identifying her as a source, transit, and destination country for women and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking.

The report in 2016, identified 1,128 potential trafficked victims: 529 sex trafficking victims, 426 child labour victims—some of whom were forced, including 261 children in domestic servitude—and 173 adult-forced labour victims; which in general represented an increase of 943 victims from the figure identified in the previous year report.

The report indicated that Nigerian trafficked victims are recruited from rural areas—especially the country’s southern regions—and, to a lesser extent, urban areas, noting that women and girls are victims of domestic servitude and sex trafficking, while boys are victims of forced and bonded labour in street vending, domestic service, mining, stone quarrying, agriculture, textile manufacturing, and begging.

It added that many of the more than 9.5 million young boys studying in Quranic schools, commonly known as almajiri, are subjected to forced begging.
Traffickers operate “baby factories”—often disguised as orphanages, maternity homes, or religious centers—where women are held against their will, raped, and forced to carry and deliver a child. The children are then sold, sometimes with the intent to exploit them in forced labour and sex trafficking.

The report revealed that Nigerian traffickers take women and children to other West African countries as well as Central African countries—including Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, and Cape Verde—as well as to South Africa, where they are exploited in forced labor and sex trafficking.

“Nigerian women and children are recruited and transported to destinations in North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia, and held captive in the commercial sex industry or forced labour, including forced begging in Morocco. West African children are subjected to forced labour in Nigeria, including in granite and gold mines. Women from West African countries transit Nigeria en route to Europe and the Middle East, where they are subjected to forced prostitution. Nigeria’s ports and waterways around Calabar are transit points for West African children subjected to forced labour in Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon.

According to the report, authorities identified that Nigerian trafficked victims—often exploited by Nigerian traffickers were—in more than 29 countries during the reporting period. Officials report an increase in Nigerian women and girls subjected to sex trafficking within Nigeria and throughout Europe, including in Italy, Austria, and Russia. An international organisation estimates that 80 per cent of all female Nigerian migrants in Italy are or will become sex trafficked victims.

It further revealed that Nigerian sex traffickers operate in highly organised criminal webs throughout Europe, and many sex trafficked victims begin to work for their traffickers in exchange for leaving sex trafficking themselves. During the reporting period, Spanish and Moroccan officials dismantled a Nigerian-led criminal group that subjected at least 39 Nigerian women and girls to sex trafficking in southeastern Spain.

The report identified that Nigerians are increasingly exploited in Libya; lured by the promise of reaching Europe, stating that traffickers keep victims in “controlled houses” or “prostitution camps,” located on the outskirts of Tripoli and Misrata and subject them to sex trafficking and to a lesser extent, domestic servitude until they can repay travel debts; before victims repay the debt, traffickers sell them again.

It added that during the reporting period, ISIS captured at least seven Nigerian women and girls in Libya and exploited them in sexual slavery; some of the victims had been transiting Libya en route to Europe.

Before departure for work abroad, many Nigerian women participate in a traditional ceremony with a juju priest; some traffickers exploit this tradition and tell the women they must obey every order or a curse will harm them, which prevents victims from seeking assistance or cooperating with law enforcement agents. Some victims’ parents encourage them to obey their traffickers and endure exploitation to earn money. During the reporting period, authorities observed criminal gangs, some of which might have had ties to so-called student cults, which partner with organised crime networks to transport Nigerians to Europe for exploitation.

The report further revealed that government officials and security forces commit sexual exploitation including sex trafficking and noted that such exploitation is a major concern in nearly all of the 13 IDP camps and local communities in and around Maiduguri, the Borno State capital, which hosts IDPs affected by the ongoing conflict with Boko Haram.
“Gatekeepers” in control of some IDP camps, at times in collusion with Nigerian policemen and soldiers, reportedly force women and girls to provide sex acts in exchange for food and services in the camps. In July 2016, an NGO reported that camp leaders, policemen, soldiers, and vigilante groups exploited 37 women and children in sex trafficking in seven IDP camps in Maiduguri.

The report states that “In July 2016, a Nigerian research organisation surveyed 400 IDPs in Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe states, and 66 per cent said camp officials sexually abused women and girls, some of which constitutes sex trafficking. Various NGOs and news outlets continued to report that children in IDP camps are victims of labour and sex trafficking, and some alleged government officials managing the camps are complicit in these activities.”

During the reporting period, Boko Haram continued to forcibly recruit and use child soldiers as young as 12 years old and abduct women and girls in the northern region of Nigeria, some of whom it subjected to domestic servitude, forced labour—including in suicide attacks in Nigeria, Cameroon, and Chad—and sexual slavery through forced marriages to its militants.

The report indicated that while the government of Nigeria does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. It stated that the government demonstrated significant efforts during the reporting period by investigating, prosecuting, and convicting traffickers; conducting anti-trafficking training for law enforcement officials; and repatriating some Nigerian trafficked victims identified abroad.

In its recommendations, the report urged the Nigerian government to cease the provision of financial and in-kind support to armed groups that recruit and use children; vigorously investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including complicit officials, labour traffickers, and those who recruit and use child soldiers, and impose sufficiently stringent sentences among others.