Every 30th day of July is set aside to mark the World Day Against Human Trafficking. This year, the theme sets victims and survivors of human trafficking at the forefront of the fight. The theme turns the spotlight on victims and indeed survivors of human trafficking with the aim of amplifying their voices in a way that takes away stigma and discrimination. This theme is apt especially in an era when survivors of trafficking who are bold enough to share their stories are often discriminated against and stigmatized based on their experiences, thereby causing others to maintain the culture of silence that we have been fighting so hard to eradicate.
Why do victims’ voices have to lead the way, many have asked and I would say that nobody can narrate your story better than you do. Nobody can tell a story better than the one that has experienced it; for you to understand my struggles and appreciate my victory, you need to walk in my shoes. Victims or those I like to call survivors must be encouraged to participate in the fight against human trafficking as they have the experiences that will help to arrest traffickers and the stories that are instrumental to preventing human trafficking.
I remember some years ago, during an event, one of the speakers who was barely involved in the fight against human trafficking mounted the podium to talk about human trafficking, it was a brilliant presentation, loaded with facts and figures, yet I realized that the audience was distracted, it was so bad that some of the audience were sleeping. I was to speak after him and so I thought of what to do to attract the audience’ attention because for every lecture I deliver, I consider it mandatory to carry the audience along with me while speaking.
The problem was not what to say but how to say it. I was well prepared, I had a powerful PowerPoint presentation I had written and of course I have a good command of the topic yet I knew that I needed to do something extra to capture the interest of the diversified audience that comprised many people from different walks of life. When it was my turn to speak, I introduced myself and began by narrating my experiences during the course of the rescue mission during my days as the director general of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP). While speaking, I realized that many of the people who were sleeping and distracted before I started speaking, were awake and their interest was already piqued. Many of them wanted to know what I experienced in the various camps I visited in Mali, Libya, etc. To ice the cake, I invited a survivor of human trafficking whom I rescued from Egypt and who now works in Roost Foundation to the podium to narrate her experiences and when she started speaking, the hall was so quiet you could have heard the sound of a pin dropping on the floor. In that hall were many people who didn’t even know that human trafficking was real, in there were survivors of human trafficking who lacked the confidence to tell their stories.
Few minutes into my staff’ speech, a good number of the audience were already in tears and I could literally feel the palpable disdain for human trafficking in the air. When I took back the microphone, I didn’t need to say much to discourage people from migrating through irregular means and from getting carried away by fake promises of greener pastures abroad by traffickers. In this case, a victim’s voice has led the way, cleared the path and I didn’t need to try too hard to drive home my point. This is just one of the many cases where I have achieved great results by allowing a survivor to speak to the audience.
I also remember one of the radio interviews I had and when I was speaking, it was business as usual for the hosts and engineers in the studio but when one of the survivors I went to started narrating her experiences, everyone in the studio including the producer and I were struggling with tears.
The fight against human trafficking must be done in such a way that the right and dignity of victims are protected. It is necessary to ensure that victims give their consent before we share their story or feature them in any event. In the reportage of cases of human trafficking, irregular migration and all forms of sexual and gender based violence, we must ensure that the right words and images are used.
The fight against human trafficking must have the interest of victims at heart. This means that beyond rescuing victims, we must also go further to empower them. I must at this point commend the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and other international Organisations involved in this fight for empowering victims. Other governmental and non-governmental Organisations must also include empowerment of victims as their top priorities. When victims are recued, first is to provide them medical attention as many of them may have contracted various forms of sexual transmitted and non-sexually transmitted diseases such as cholera, pneumonia, typhoid, malaria, tuberculosis, etc. Alongside the provision of medical attention is offering them counselling and psychological sessions that will assist them to let off the traumatic experiences that may have left indelible imprints in their minds. Ensuring that survivors are mentally stable before reintegrating them into the society. After reintegration into the society, we must ensure that survivors are either given business startup capital, offered employment opportunities or enrolled in schools according to their choice. This way, we would block out any chances revictimization.
Ours is a dynamic world that is constantly undergoing changes and to keep up with these changes in the scourge of human trafficking, we must diversify our approach. Every 30th of July gives us the opportunity to appraise the effectiveness of our efforts so far and to map out blueprints for the future especially with the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic that has made the vulnerable more vulnerable, creating more opportunities for traffickers to thrive. We must go beyond the seminars, lectures, walk and various events that will be held in commemoration of this day and ensure that survivors once victimized never fall victims again, this is the crux of the matter.
Once again, I reiterate the need for governmental and non-governmental Organisations, Civil Society Orgainsations, Faith Based Organisations to collaborate together and save humanity as this fight is one that involves all of government and society.