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Trade: Nigeria Struggles To Rescue 20,000 Girls From Mali

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With over 24.9 million people trapped in forced labor via human trafficking worldwide, sex trade has become a booming business globally. BLESSING BATURE writes on the need to curtail this unspeakable crime

Despite efforts by the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), about 20,000 Nigerian girls are trapped in Mali, a neighbouring West African country.

Millions of women, men, and children around the world fall victims of sex trade each year. The trade has become one of the world’s fastest growing criminal industries in the world.

Over the years, sex trade has become a global multi-billion-dollar enterprise that affects nearly every single country, according to the United Nations.

While human trafficking is defined as a “modern-day form of slavery involving the illegal trade of people for exploitation or commercial gain,” it can take many forms. Lured by false promises of a good job, educational opportunities, a stable conflict-free environment or even a loving romantic relationship, victims of human trafficking are then pushed into forced labor or begging, sexual exploitation and domestic servitude.

Reports show that traffickers are reaping huge profits off the crime. According to an Equality Now fact sheet, the sex trafficking industry pulls in an estimated $99 billion each year.

While trafficking victims can be individuals of both genders, the majority of victims are women and girls. According to data from the UN, 51 percent of victims are women while another 20 percent are girls, accounting for 71 percent of victims. More than 50 percent of victims are sexually exploited.

It has been discovered that the most common form of human trafficking is sexual exploitation.

The trafficking of people, and sex trafficking in particular, is of paramount concern for governments seeking to control migration and international crime; for activists and humanitarian organisations working to improve the rights of women and all workers; and for reformers who are seeking to abolish exploitative prostitution.

The concept of trafficking is far from stable. Today, heated debates rage about the best way to define it, to respond to it, and to combat it. Anti-trafficking discourse has been used to help many exploited workers and victims of sexual abuse, but it has also been used to justify increasingly harmful immigration and anti-prostitution regimes.

Human trafficking, ‘people smuggling’ and clandestine migration are some of the most politically volatile and socially pressing issues in the present day, but they also have a long history. This AHRC-funded research project, ‘Trafficking, Smuggling and Illicit Migration in Historical and Gendered Perspective 1870 -2000,’ seeks to bring together global, national and local historical perspectives, and to place trafficking in the context of migration, labour, and gender. It seeks to explore how certain people’s movement across borders came to be defined as illicit; how states responded to trafficking at national, imperial, and international levels; and how trafficking was connected both to women’s work and to sexual violence in this period.

Recently, director-general, National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), Dame Julie Okah-Donli, raised the alarm that Nigerian girls are languishing as slaves in other countries and appealed to President Buhari led federal government to save these Nigerians from slave auctions in Mali.

According to her, “There is urgent need to rescue more than 20,000 Nigerian girls trafficked to Mali. There is urgent need to protect Nigerian citizens from being sold into slavery.”

She described the slave trade as ‘a sickening crime against humanity’.  “I am wondering why Nigeria was “indifferent”, despite being one of the most affected countries,” she asked.

“This is a humiliation not just to Nigeria and Africa as a whole but also to human civilization and the fundamental principles of human rights under the United Nations Charter. The Malian government does not have the means nor the commitment to crack down on the perpetrators as their hands are full.”

She said (NAPTIP) is making efforts to rescue about 20,000 Nigerian girls trapped in different parts of Mali. The DG told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Abuja, that the victims were trapped in different parts of Mali, for prostitution.  “The trafficked victims were discovered after NAPTIP sent a fact-finding mission to Mali last December, following some security reports,” she said, adding, “We sent a fact-finding mission to Mali and the mission came with a report that, about 20,000 Nigerian girls had been trafficked to different parts of Mali.

“Many of the girls said that they were deceived that, they were being taken to “Malisia”, making it sound like Malaysia, to work in hotels, restaurants, hairdressing salons and some other jobs. Some of the girls arrived there in their school uniforms, meaning that they were kidnapped on their way to or from school.”

The NAPTIP boss decried the living condition of trafficked Nigerians in the West African country, adding that some of the girls were sold for N600, 000 and were made to service, mainly miners. “There are over one million Nigerians residents in Mali, out of which about 20,000 are trapped into forced prostitution,” the NAPTIP boss said. “The conditions are horrible; they are kept in shanties in the thick of the forest where they cannot escape and with the “madames” watching over them. “Their job, mainly, is to service miners from other parts of Africa who are predominant in Northern Mali. They are bought for N600, 000 and they are made to pay back N1.8million or N2million within six months before regaining freedom and also becoming madams.”

She assured that the Nigerian authorities were collaborating with their Malian counter parts as well as the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), to rescue and rehabilitate the victims, most of whom were eager to return.

“Most of the girls are desirous of returning home and we are working with the IOM, the Malian government and the Nigerian Embassy in Mali to see how we can repatriate them,” Okah-Donli said. “Our plan is to rehabilitate them immediately they return home, we will have rehabilitation programme on ground before they are repatriated.”

Donli-Okah said that human trafficking increases by 500 girls daily and urged Nigerians to be more vigilant. In her words, “Trafficking increases by at least, 500 girls daily, they bring them in their hundreds and now, they waybill them through well-known motor parks in Cotonou.

“It also cuts across all 36 states of Nigeria and happens all over the world. It is no longer about the Edo girls being trafficked to Italy. I urge Nigerians to be on the alert and sensitive about their surroundings; they should report suspicious movements to the authorities, especially at our border posts.”

She said that a fact-finding team of NAPTIP and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) uncovered the existence of the stranded ladies last month.

Dozens of Nigerian girls had been repatriated from the Kangaba area of Southern Mali a few months ago, not knowing that thousands more were being held in the area. Local residents told the agencies that more than 200 such locations exist in which between 150 and 200 stranded Nigerian women and girls can be found. The women who are mostly young, aged between 16 and 30, the same demographic profile like their compatriots found in Libya, had been promised a new abode in Malaysia where they would be provided with lucrative jobs in the hospitality industry.

In addition to being held in the ‘middle of nowhere’ they also have to contend with the frightening rituals they were obliged to go through before they embarked on their misadventure by which they must pay the traffickers the agreed sums under the pain of death if they reneged. Given the circumstances, they would rather choose to die in slave labour than violate their oaths.

“I commend the federal government for its willingness to repatriate these citizens whenever they have been found,” the NAPTIP DG said. “But it would appear our chancelleries and consulates are not doing the vital reporting of the fate of Nigerians in the various countries. We would have thought that Nigerian diplomats should be the first to alert the government about the plight of Nigerians in such dire circumstances, not the NAPTIP or the IOM.

“President Buhari and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should remind our embassies of this basic fact that it is their duty to report and act on the fate and well-being of Nigerian citizens wherever they may be. Our envoys in Mali should comb the neighborhoods of Mali to ensure that Nigerian women and girls are repatriated at once. I am calling on government at all levels to protect the rights of Nigerians across the world.”

 

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