23rd February, 2012
The global escalation of forced labour, human trafficking and violation of women and children`s rights is quite upsetting. United Nations describes human trafficking as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other form of coercion, of abduction, of fraud of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. It is a modern day slavery done for the purpose of sexual and human exploitation. Unfortunately, this dastardly act is being exacerbated and aided by technology, communication and transportation as well as high demand for cheap labour and commercial sex workers globally. To curb a business of such magnitude, therefore, requires a more serious approach and carefully planned strategies. Human trafficking is a well organised crime where victims are deceived and moved locally and across international borders for economic gains.
According to the 2004 US State Department figure, more than 800,000 women and children are trafficked annually across international borders. Also, the United Nations statistics shows that 4 million persons are trafficked internationally and internally annually. Women and children are usually the direct victims of human trafficking as they account for 80% of cases. It has reached such an endemic level that the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 55/25 of 15 November 2000, as the main international instrument in the fight against transnational organized crime. Nigeria and other nations are signatories to this UN Conventions and other Protocols such as Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). These Conventions guarantee right to liberty of movement and freedom to choose one`s residence, right to a decent work, right to freedom from slavery, right not to be tortured and /or submitted to other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
With the existence of domestic and international legal instruments in place, human trafficking has remained a global lucrative business. It is conservatively estimated to rake in a massive profit of about $10 billion annually. As it is the case in drug trafficking, Nigeria also ranks very high in the global business of human trafficking serving as origination, transition and destination points. Today, many of our women and girls, of diverse ages, are being lured abroad under the disguise of seeking greener pasture only to end up as prostitutes, domestic servants, slaves and destitute. Nigeria has not only continued to be origin of human trafficking to Europe, America and Asia, but it is also a transitional point for some West Africa countries such as Benin Republic, Togo, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Mali among others. Within the country, majority of domestic servants are under aged children recruited from such States as of Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Ebonyi, Kano and Kaduna.
Worried by the growing trends of human trafficking in Nigeria, the Federal Government in 2003 created the National Agency for Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and other related Matters (NAPTIP). The Agency which is the creation of Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Law Enforcement and Administration Act, 2003 is the Federal Government of Nigeria’s response to addressing the scourge of trafficking in persons in Nigeria and its attendant human abuses in its entire ramification. It is also a fulfilment of her international obligation under the trafficking in persons protocol supplementing the Transnational Organized Crime Convention (TOC) of which Nigeria is a signatory .
In 2010, NAPTIP recorded 5000 victims, provided care for 1,109 human trafficking victims and prosecuted over a hundred cases. Unfortunately, this action grossly undervalues the magnitude of human trafficking issue in Nigeria. In order to seriously tackle human trafficking in Nigeria, the Federal Government must have data base that gives the global record and scientific analysis of human trafficking cases in the country. It is only when this is in place that we can really fashion out a framework for the scientific analysis that is required in curbing the growing trend of human trafficking in the country. Similarly, the government must exert enough political will to implement the human trafficking law in such a way that there will be no sacred cows. It is important that the law must be strengthened not to give room for any manipulation irrespective of the calibre of people involved . It is until this is done that the high ranking people in the society , political office holders and their ilk, who are the perpetrators and beneficiaries of this heinous crime would desist.
It is necessary for governments at all levels to implement policies that will give hope to the hopeless and protect the weak against the strong. Every economic alleviating policy must be targeted at the poor and women who are usually the most vulnerable victims of human trafficking. Equally, all agencies involved in monitoring the nation`s international borders should be equipped with adequate and professionally trained personnel with necessary modern equipment.
Lagos, being the commercial epicentre of the country and indeed West Africa, in addition to its international border with Benin Republic, the ever busy Murtala International Airport and sea ports, is obviously an attractive transition and destination points of this serious crime against humanity. It is, therefore, pleasing to note that the Lagos State Government has been in the forefront of the fight against all forms of violations of women’s rights and abuse of children . In order to ensure that the interests of the women and children in the state are well taken care of, the Lagos State Government has embarked on several women economic empowerment programmes such as free skill acquisition trainings, free education, free medical care, poverty eradication programmes and prosecution of human trafficking and children`s rights violators. Aside this, the state government has put in place an institutionalized framework of rehabilitating victims of human trafficking in the state. A 176-bed space Home for Victims of Domestic violence and Human Trafficking with modern facilities has been established at Ayobo, Ipaja where victims of domestic violence and human trafficking can have access to free accommodation, medical treatment, clothing, and feeding until they are able to overcome their trauma . In addition to this, the state government has embarked on vigorous enlightenment campaigns on the evils of child trafficking and other forms of abuse.
On a final note, to properly tackle the menace of human trafficking in Nigeria, non-governmental organizations, religious groups and other stakeholders must work with governments across all levels to dismantle the existing structure of traffickers by educating the populace on the sanctity of human life which must be respected and protected. There must be reorientation and sensitization of people on the evil of human trafficking.
•Hassan is of the Lagos State Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.