Human trafficking is a thriving criminal enterprise in which women, children and men are moved from one place to another for various unholy purposes, especially forced labour and sex exploitation. Some other victims are trafficked for the purpose of organ removal, forced begging, forced criminality and other emerging exploitative purposes.

The World Day Against Trafficking in Persons was celebrated by countries all over the world on July 30 to bring attention to issues concerning this form of modern slavery. The United Nations Organisation set this day aside every year to raise awareness about this scourge and increase the preventive measures to defeat it.

The International Labour Organisation states that about 120 million persons are victims of human trafficking around the world, while the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) Global Report of Trafficking In Persons indicates that women and children make up 71% percent of victims, with children constituting 31 percent. This high percentage of vulnerable children and youths is probably why the UNODC chose this year’s theme as ‘Responding to the Trafficking of Children and Young People’ . The year’s campaign draws attention to the issues faced by trafficked children and to the possible initiatives towards safeguarding and ensuring justice for child victims.

When slave trade was abolished across the world in the 1800s, there was widespread relief, especially across Africa – which bore the brunt of this atrocious practice of buying, selling and using humans like animals – that it was gone for good. Contemporary experience shows that the practice is not only very much in existence, but its scale has assumed disturbing proportions.

In the old practice, nearly all the victims, mostly from Africa, were sold into slavery through the instrumentality of coercion. While some were kidnapped by head hunters, others were rounded up by their parents and local chiefs and handed over to slave merchants who ferried them in ships to Europe and America and in turn sold them to landowners who used them as farm, industrial and domestic labourers.

This time around, the practice has been rechristened human trafficking, or people trafficking, and it happens in every country. It has both internal and international dimensions. In the former, criminal elements, some of them family members and friends, go to poor families and induce the victims with promises of employment in the cities. Afterwards, they turn them in sex workers and other forms of forced labour.

The international dimension has evolved into a billion-dollar enterprise. According the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), the Nigerian body established to combat this form of modern slavery, the illegal enterprise generates $150 billion yearly across the world.

Disturbingly, the victims are often willing tools in the hands of traffickers, who take advantage of their desperation for better life in a foreign country. Once they are transported to such lands, some of them are subjected to slave labour, debt bondage, involuntary servitude, forced child labour, sex trafficking and prostitution, etc. NAPTIP recently warned that the traffickers now take their victims abroad where their organs are harvested and many of them are left to die.

Human trafficking in Nigeria has truly assumed a worrying dimension in terms of its scope and prevalence despite the various efforts to contain the scourge.

While NAPTIP has convicted 359 persons in the 15 years of its establishment, this year alone, it has secured convictions for 41 traffickers and rescued 500 human trafficking victims in Edo State and 103 in Osun State. The figures in other states are equally troubling.

These efforts of government agencies to stem this tide seems not to be deterring those involved in this unwholesome trade.

Many more persons are willing to raise capital and submit themselves to be trafficked abroad in spite the tales of horror told by persons rescued from their ordeals in Libya where thousands of Nigerians have been repatriated from their enslavement in their suicidal attempt to reach Europe through the Algerian Dessert. This is aside thousands who have drowned in the Mediterranean Sea trying to achieve a similar end.

The Europe Union estimates that there are still as many as 60,000 Nigerians still camped in North Africa trying to be smuggled into Europe to face uncertain futures.

It bears no argument that despite the economic hardship a vast majority of Nigerians are grappling with, the resort to this modern enslavement as an escape route is a function of the erosion of our value system which has elevated materialism over hard work, human dignity and moral rectitude.

We condemn human trafficking in all its ramifications and urge governments at all levels to do more to raise the level of awareness about the grave dangers inherent in it. Also, perpetrators should be made to face stiffer punishment, including confiscation of all proceeds traced to this crime against humanity.