Besides the sale of weapons and illicit drugs trade, human trafficking is one of the world’s fastest-growing criminal businesses. CHRISTIANA NWAOGU writes that since law-and-order approach to solving this problem has failed , new strategies are needed to halt the atrocity and help victims.
Trafficking in human beings touches on many issues: human rights, inequality, discrimination, the rule of law, crime control, law enforcement, corruption, economic deprivation and migration.
Any state can be a country of origin, transit or destination. Clearly, fighting this trade requires a concerted, multidisciplinary international approach.
It is no longer news that of the around 700,000 persons trafficked across the world every year, Nigeria’s notoriety in the act has become an issue of international concern.
This is because, thousands of young Nigerian ladies are routinely trafficked to Europe and Asia for sexual exploitation.
Confessions has shown that they are taken from Nigeria to other West and Central African countries, primarily Gabon, Cameroon, Ghana, Chad, Benin, Togo, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Gambia for the same purposes.
In the same vein, Children from West African states like Benin, Togo, and Ghana – where Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) rules allow for easy entry – are also forced to work in Nigeria, and some are subjected to hazardous jobs in Nigeria’s granite mines. Nigerian women and girls are also taken to Europe , especially to Italy and Russia , and to the Middle East and North Africa , for forced prostitution.
Disturbingly, the concern over this menace, goes beyond the shores of Nigeria as the United States recently accused the federal government of failing to do enough to put the scourge under control.
Recall that on June 30, 2018, a 51-year old Edo State-born Nigerian woman, Josephine Iyamu, was convicted in the United Kingdom for trafficking five girls from her homestead of Edo to Germany for sexual exploitation.
Ms Iyamu, a nurse in Britain and the first person to be convicted under the UK anti-modern slavery law was formally jailed on 4th July. Prior to her arrest and trial, she was said to have compelled her victims to swear to oaths that they would deposit all their earnings with her once they started working.
Some of the rituals she reportedly performed on her victims included eating chicken hearts and drinking blood containing worms, and powdering incisions.
Iyamu’s conviction was preceded by the earlier sentence of another Nigerian, Franca Asemota by the UK Crown Court to 22 years imprisonment for attempting to traffic some Nigerian girls to Europe through the London Heathrow Airport.
Asemota, who was arrested in Nigeria and extradited to the UK for trial, was convicted of a 12-count charge of sexual exploitation, trafficking in persons outside the UK and engaging in unlawful immigration, among others.
In the last one year, the International Office of Migration (IOM) said it has spent huge sums of money to evacuate back home hundreds of Nigerians most of whom were trafficked to Libya enroute Europe with promises of better life.
Several of them lost their lives while those who survived went through anguish and trauma before the federal government came to their rescue.
These are despite the countless numbers of Nigerians who regularly lose their lives on the Mediterranean Sea while being trafficked abroad or engaged in illegal migration.
To our collective shame these kind of deaths have become a recurring decimal on account of which the Mediterranean Sea has become the cemetery where Africa’s future, which our young represent, is buried.
LEADERSHIP findings reveal that the deaths are under-reported, as the figures more often than not do not take into account those deaths for which the corpses are not recovered. It must be noted that in most cases some of the immigrants are deliberately dumped into the sea like bags of weed.
To add salt to injury, humanity’s conscience was recently jolted by a CNN report of auctioning of black African migrants as salves in Libya where these migrants are normally held in servitude in human cargo holding facilities.
For those who wonder why these criminals would strip fellow human beings of their dignity in such a beastly manner, the answer is simple-Money.
They do it for the money. Slavery is so lucrative especially now that it involves human organ harvesting. It was and it is still a money spinner. In the past, it was so lucrative that a part of the sweet Land of Liberty fought a vicious Civil war to keep slavery until the Abolitionists won.
Very worrisome too, is the fact that, several young Nigerians are also being trafficked within the country by money mongers who recruit them from ravaged homes in rural areas with promises of improving their living standard or grant them access to education in the city.
As we are aware, the root of human trafficking in Nigeria is tied to endemic poverty which has been been utilised as a tool in the hands of traffickers to lure their victims into illicit jobs with promises of improved living.
Some of this victims are lured by false promises of jobs in hotels, night clubs, massage centres, hospitals or domestic service, they instead have their passports confiscated and are forced to work as prostitutes. It is a heinous crime, and perpetrators should be dealt with severely.
LEADERSHIP Sunday reports that Human trafficking, itself a human rights violation, can lead to other crimes: debt bondage, forced labour, rape, torture and murder. Treating human beings as commodities grossly ignores the basic rights of autonomy and dignity. The problem therefore demands a solution that punishes the perpetrator but also seriously addresses its root causes.
Trafficking grows from a combination of political, social, economic and legal failings. To tackle it effectively, we must see it as a labour problem, a migration problem, a human rights problem, a law enforcement problem and a political problem.
Poverty, discrimination and unequal access to schooling and jobs all make people vulnerable to trafficking. A human rights approach to the problem would aim to identify its root causes, combining the insights and aspirations of law enforcement bodies, civil society, professionals, governments, NGOs and Little wonder, seventy percent of those recently evacuated from Libya narrated how frustration forced them into the journey.
On this ground, the federal government is therefore urged to address the prevalent poverty ravaging the land and offer meaningful hope of livelihood to frustrated young Nigerians, particularly the youths, who easily fall prey to traffickers.
Dishearteningly, women and children who embark on such journey, according to UNICEF, are forced to live in the shadows, unprotected, reliant on smugglers and preyed upon by traffickers.
This is also as transport used by women and children according the survey by UNICEF were mainly trucks, taxis or private cars. About one third indicated that they had travelled long distances on foot or by motorcycle, boat or animals.
LEADERSHIP Sunday gathered that travel through the desert usually required traversing rough sand roads leaving them exposed to heat, cold and dust. Nearly one third of the women interviewed reported that they had experienced fatigue, disease, insufficient access to food and water, lack of funds, gang robbery, arrest by local authorities and imprisonment.
Children also lamented they did not have access to adequate food while on the journey, according to the source.
The aside hunger, other hazards encountered which further worsens their travail include sexual violence, extortion and abduction. Nearly half the women and children according to the survey had experienced sexual abuse during migration – often multiple times and in multiple locations.
“It (route) carries children and women from the hinterlands of Africa and the Middle East, across the Sahara to the Mediterranean Sea in Libya”, the UNICEF report said.
“Every day, thousands travel this route with the hope of reaching safety in Europe. They flee war, violence and poverty. They endure exploitation, abuse, violence and detention. Thousands die. It is not only a risky route taken by desperate people, but also a billion-dollar business route controlled by criminal networks. “
UNICEF better describes this route as “It is called the Central Mediterranean Migration Route. It is among the deadliest journeys in the world for children. A lack of safe and legal alternatives means they have no option but to use it.”
The report disclosed that “In 2016, over 181,000 migrants “ including more than 25,800 unaccompanied children “ put their lives in the hands of smugglers to reach Italy. “
According to the report, most dangerous part of the route is a 1,000-kilometre journey from the southern border of Libya’s desert to its Mediterranean Coast combined with the 500-kilometre sea passage to Sicily. It added that in (2015), 4,579 people died making the crossing or 1 in every 40 of those who made the attempt. It is estimated that at least 700 children were among the dead.
Only recently, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), revealed that it had concluded plans to repatriate over 50 Nigerian girls trapped in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The Director–General NAPTIP, Julie Okah–Donli, said this on Thursday in Abuja while briefing Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, on the outcome of the investigation on Nigerian girls trafficked to Saudi Arabia.
The director general revealed the nation’s youth are often been innocently trafficked to Saudi under the guise of getting jobs for them.
“When the team visited Saudi Arabia, we met with more than 50 girls who were interviewed and we were told that there were many more girls who were stranded in various part of Saudi Arabia.
“One of the victims was brought back and she is here to recount her ordeal,” she said.
She said there were a lot of Nigerian girls who were stranded in Saudi working under slave-like conditions in people’s home.
According to her, most of them are raped while others are made to work 18 hours out of 24 hours.
She said many were made to sleep in very poor condition and not paid in accordance with what the fraudulent trafficking agencies promised them.
“There is a very big cartel that works with embassies, who secured visas for the victims because those who have genuine businesses don’t easily get visas but the trafficked,” she said.
Responding to her then, the minister, Mr Geoffrey Onyeama said there was a report that had a serious and a very negative impact on the country and the people.
He said, “The report showed that this is a real scourge and it is just too pervasive now in our society and a lot of work is being done by the NAPTIP which is commendable.
According to the minister, “Human trafficking is about trafficking beyond our border and this concerns the ministry of foreign affairs; we are also very much worried.”
“We need to sensitise our country and our people and to bring the issues closer to home through a personal experience,” he said.
He said the ministry was in the process of having inter-ministerial meetings with all Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to really address the problem and tackle the issue once and for all.
“We want to put in place mechanism to tackle this issue, it is a crime against humanity, our youths are suffering and it is not something we can tolerate. he acknowledged”.
“And, every effort would be made, that nothing would be spared toward eradicating this menace from this country and from the face of the earth,” he said
You would also recall the story of a certain girl , who spoke in English fluently but didn’t reveal her identities, said she left for Saudi Arabia with other girls on December 30, 2017 before being rescued by NAPTIP through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Narrating her ordeal, the rescued victim told, “It all started through a friend who claimed she was living in Dubai; she introduced me to a woman agent in Abuja, I was living in Lagos and latter invited me to meet her in Abuja
“Everything was processed through her and when we got to Saudi Arabia it was a different thing entirely, my passport was seized and I ended working as a house help.
She said when the condition was unbearable she called the woman and said she could no longer cope but the agent said she could not leave.
According to her, “ the agent said, I must pay N1.7 million before I would be released. And if I could not pay I would have to work for two years, so I contacted a journalist friend who contacted NAPTIP. This committed agency in turn that contacted the Nigerian Embassy through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”
The girl, who said she almost committed suicide before luck smiled on her appealed to the federal government to come to the rescue of thousands of Nigerian girls trapped in Saudi Arabia.
Her words, “I want government to assist those other girls that are stranded because it is not easy, Nigerian girls are passing through hell in Saudi Arabia and in other countries , there may not be work in Nigeria but it is better to stay back”
Only recently, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), has as part of its commitment to fight the scourge of human trafficking to standstill launched a-one-in-all platform.
The application was launched during a press conference in Abuja.
According to the Director General of NAPTIP, Julie Okah-Donli, the app is to “scale up the visibility of the agency”.
Mrs Okah-Donli said the development is to prompt reportage of issues relating to human trafficking as well as increase the participation and interaction of the general public in human trafficking matters.
With this, “NAPTIP is just a click from you,” she added.
Celebrating the 2018 World Day Against Human Trafficking and the 15 years of existence of the agency, the official said the media has become a formidable partner with unwavering commitment “as far as the fight against human trafficking is concerned”.
Reeling out the achievements of NAPTIP, she explained that the agency has ten, (10 )shelters, “every office of the NAPTIP has a shelter attached to it where they (victims) are given medical care, psycho-social support and then enrolled into schools for those interested and teach those that want to acquire some skills and afterwards reintegrated with their family.
The DG said the fight against human trafficking is not a fight just for the federal government but a fight for all of the society and government.
She also urged Nigerians to be security conscious.
“Nigerians should be their brother’s keeper and to parents, they should take care of their children, do not allow anyone to traffic your children and do not get trafficked yourself.
“Once human trafficking related issues is reported to the appropriate authority which is NAPTIP, they would get appropriate response; but if they report to the inappropriate authority, they may not get the response they should get because it is only NAPTIP that is mandated to fight the crime against human trafficking,” she added.
Similarly, the President Business and Professional Women (BPW), Dupe Utsalo, condemned human trafficking.
“One of the things we do as a group is networking, mentoring young ladies, women, girls, and widows, standing up for what is right. We have seven clubs in Abuja and we are ready to say No! anytime,” she said.
In the words of American Secretary of State John F Kerry, “We find perhaps no greater threat to human dignity, no greater assault on basic freedom, than the evil of human trafficking.” Human trafficking is rightly called “modern slavery” and governments in the United States, Jamaica and across the globe are increasing their efforts to combat this crime and hold perpetrators to account.
Human traffickers often prey on those who seek a better life, whether it is a young girl lured away from her family only to be trapped in sexual slavery, or an aspiring man seeking better wages to support his family only to become a victim of forced labour. We all recognise modern slavery when its features are visible — workers locked in a factory, or denied wages, or subjected to physical abuse. But many more instances are not so easy to detect.
It’s a known fact that one of the biggest challenges in the fight against human trafficking is holding perpetrators accountable through criminal proceedings, convictions and tough sentencing.
While it can be difficult to build a strong case because many trafficking victims are too afraid to testify against their former captor whereby they fear reprisals and may have to live in hiding until the end of the trial.
Though identifying victims can also be a challenge, many trafficked victims are often reluctant to contact law enforcement, to this ends, civil society groups. therefore has critical role to play.
The relationship of trust that non-governmental organisations, churches and other civil society groups have built within communities is also key to identifying victims. Civil society to this end, can also play a critical role in reintegrating survivors into society.
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