In recent times, stories of children being trafficked in and outside the country has increased. A situation that reinforces the assumption that the phenomenon, despite the good intention of authorities, persists. In this report, Gabriel Atumeyi looks at the issues involved.
On Wednesday, November 2, the Nigerian Police arrested three persons on account of trafficking 35 pregnant women, six children and one newborn baby in Aba, Abia State. The arrest was made at an orphanage in Isiala Ngwa South local government area of the state. The orphanage, according to reports, was established for the sole purpose of harvesting babies for sale, and has been running for about 10 years now.
Without doubt, child trafficking has a long history in the Nigerian context. Year-in, year-out, there is one news or the other, of police bursting in on some malnourished women who have been harbored in some house somewhere only to give birth and forfeit their baby for some evil midwife, in exchange for some agreed sum of money. This forfeited children are then handed over to desperate couples. The money paid for the merchandise is pegged between N100, 000 and N200,000.
There is also another dimension to child trafficking which involves the trafficking of relatively matured children who are used for domestic labour or sexual purposes.
According to experts, Nigeria is a source, transit, and destination country for children subjected to trafficking. Trafficked Nigerian children are recruited from rural areas within the country’s borders – girls for involuntary domestic servitude and sexual exploitation, and boys for forced labour in street vending, domestic servitude, mining, and begging. Child trafficking has become widespread and now occupies a preeminent position among the ills that pervade the Nigeria society. The United Nations estimates that 10 babies are sold each day in Nigeria and that child trafficking business in Nigeria generates as much as much as $33 billion annually.
Even though it can be said to be a national issue, it is more frequently observed in the southeastern region of Nigeria. So far, this year there have been a number of cases in this part of the country.
In January this year, for instance, a Federal High Court sitting in Enugu, sentenced a 25-year-old woman named Onwe Nwakaego, from Abakpa Nike Enugu, to six months imprisonment without the option of fine, for child trafficking.
Similarly, in June, this year, 10 Nigerian children were rescued from human traffickers planning to fly them to Russia through the exploitation of relaxed visa control for the World Cup.
The children were intercepted by officials at Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos State, just as they were trying to board a flight to Moscow.
Also, in August this year, the Imo State Police Command smashed a child trafficking syndicate, arrested eight suspects and rescued 11 children, including a set of two-day-old twins. The children were reported to have been stolen from several states in the southeast and south-south.
Similarly in September, the police and officials of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons, NAPTIP, smashed an eight member child trafficking syndicate for allegedly stealing and selling a three-month-old baby boy in Ebonyi State. The baby boy and his 17- year-old mother were lured by a family friend from their community in Ohaukwu local government area of Ebonyi State, to Onitcha, in Anambra State. While there, the suspected traffickers drugged the mother and took her baby away. They sold him to one man in Enugu State who re-sold the baby to another woman in Abuja, for N910, 000.
Also, in June this year, the Police in Lagos, arrested a syndicate that specialises in trafficking physically challenged children from the northern part of Nigeria to Lagos State, where they are used to beg, and rescued five minors.
Then in July, it was reported that, for the second consecutive year, Nigeria was placed on Tier-2 Watch list by the United States’ government for failing to meet minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. It added that Nigeria’s ports and waterways around Calabar, were transit points for West African children subjected to forced labour in Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon, even pointing out that Nigerians travel to Togo for child sex.
In Nigeria, there is a Child Rights Act (CRA) of 2003, which is a domestication of the convention on the rights of the child. The 1989 convention rightly perceives children as future leaders who ought to be protected against all forms of abuse and societal ills.
The United Nations Children Education Fund (UNICEF) listed the states in Nigeria, that are yet to domesticate the CRA as Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Enugu, Gombe, Kaduna, Kano. Katsina, Kebbi, Sokoto, Yobe and Zamfara states. Ironically, most of these states are where the Nigerian child is exposed to the activities of terrorists like boko haram and other marauders that kill and traffic children at will.
Even in states where this law has been domesticated, there are still cases of child trafficking.
While commenting on the matter, Mrs Imaobong Ladipo Sanusi, the executive director, Women Trafficking And Child Labour Eradication Foundation (WOTCLEF) said the reason we are even hearing about the issue these days is because of the work some people are been doing. ‘‘We work with the police, NAPCO and several other agencies. Human trafficking in Nigeria is endemic in the sense that Nigeria is a source, transit and destination country. And WOTCLEF is an institution that has been working assiduously to eliminate human trafficking, basically by prevention.
“We do this through outreaches, for instance we partner with the National Youth Service Corp (NYSC). WOTCLEF was even the first NGO to use the corps members as foot soldiers. The corps members are posted to nooks and crannies of Nigeria. So we train them so that in each CDS, we have what we call the WOTCLEF gender vanguard, were we train them on child trafficking, child labour, the spread of HIV/AIDs and the abuse of the rights of women and children.
“Another thing we have done is establishing an anti- trafficking club which we call the WOTCLEF anti-trafficking club brigade. The club has a presence in all the primary and secondary schools, even in universities in Nigeria. We partner with schools and we have club days where we train children, their teachers and patrons, basing all our talk on issues of human trafficking. Good enough, the anti-trafficking club has helped WOTCLEF to be pro-active. There are times that we have to burst human trafficking, we do that. We also have opportunity to speak in gatherings and religious circles. We also do the promotion of rights and protection that is why we have our shelters.
“WOTCLEF also establishes a network of civil society against child trafficking, abuse and labour. Human trafficking is a multi-sectorial issue that should be dealt with head-on. We network with all our partners in the six geopolitical zones. With that, we can also share intelligence, information and network.’’
Also speaking to Leadership Weekend, Mr Joseph Igwe, executive director of Child Rights Awareness Creation Org. (CRACO), said that the prevalence of cases of child trafficking can be attributed to the bad economic condition in Nigeria. The high level of poverty has led to the rise in trafficking of children for economic benefit.
“It is so sad that today, child trafficking is not only perpetrated by strangers and relatives but biological parents are now involved in trafficking their own children for profit. We have recorded cases where parents sell their newborns, and their reason in most cases is that things have been so hard for them they had to sell one of their child in order to use the money to train the remaining ones. It is that bad. The government really needs to take drastic measures to address the level of poverty in Nigeria; only this can reduce the rate of child trafficking.
“Also awareness campaign and sensitisation need to be carried out because most children and adolescents who are victims of trafficking, don’t know what they are getting into. The traffickers always paint a picture of getting them out of poverty by taking them to the city. They only find out the truth when they finally get to the city which is usually too late. To address this, we, as an NGO, initiated a schools outreach programme where we visit schools to sensitise children and adolescents on the menace.