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Conspiracy of silence as modern slavery booms

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Dame Julie Okah-Donli, Director-General, National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP).

Domestic work is an area that is not regulated by law in most parts of the world.

This makes them one of the groups most vulnerable to exploitation, violence, harassment, and forced labour. 

While in most parts of the developing countries domestic workers are children of relatives, the practice has moved well beyond in-country practice to trans-border business, as domestic workers are sourced from neighbouring countries.

It is common to find juveniles from Togo and Benin Republic in Nigeria serving as domestic helpers. 

For many of them, daily abuses like lack of rest and non-payment of wages quickly turn into forced labour, which has been aptly tagged, ‘modern slavery’. 

Indeed, slavery under various modernised guises is still happening in Nigeria. 

Around the world, workers who work in isolation, where nobody is watching, are particularly vulnerable to violence and harassment at work.

A recent report from the International Labour Organisation (ILO), explained that a workforce of 67 million strong, domestic workers provide essential care for homes and loved ones.

Yet, they frequently suffer forms of violence and harassment, exploitation, coercion, verbal abuse, sexual violence, and sometimes death.

The report pointed out that domestic workers that live in the homes of their employers are the most vulnerable.

Last week Thursday, August 23, the world celebrated the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition.

It is a yearly event set aside by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), to mark the international day for the remembrance of the slave trade and its abolition.

Even as the world celebrated the day, Nigeria still ranked highest for modern day slavery in Africa.

According to the Global Slavery Index (GSI) 2018, the population of the people in slavery in Nigeria is 1.384 million people more than the total number of all the other 16 West Africa countries added together, which is put at 1.081 million.

The 2018 GSI shows that seven out of 1000 Nigeria citizens live in modern slavery, while the vulnerability of Nigerians to modern slavery is 74 out of 100 people.

Data from the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), shows that the employment of children as domestic workers as well as the procurement of persons for sexual exploitation and forced labour point to numerous examples of modern day slavery in Nigeria.

The Director-General of NAPTIP, Dame Julie Okah-Donli, said ignorance and misconceptions lead many Nigerians to seek greener pastures where it does not exist.

Okah-Donli, who attributed ignorance and lack of education as reasons for Nigeria having the highest number of modern slavery in Africa, however, said the Agency has adopted awareness campaigns in rural communities where most victims were taken from, as strategy to reduce the number of modern slavery in Nigeria.

Exploitation of people is common in Nigeria, as most, especially the vulnerable are denied freedom of expression, movement and subjected to mental and physical abuse by others.

The Executive Director of Devatop Centre for African Development, Joseph Osuigwe, submitted that acquiring the services of housemaids is not a crime in itself, but the inhuman way they are treated is the crime.

He described housemaids in most homes as ‘house slaves’.

As a result of this development, he urged governments, employers and workers, as well as individual households to ensure protection of domestic workers from all forms of violence and harassment

Specifically, Osuigwe recommended the introduction of social protection programme for indigent members of society to reduce the invulnerability to modern slavery.

Chief of Inclusive Labour Markets, Labour Relations and Working Conditions at ILO, Philippe Marcadent, in a report on, Recognising the Rights of Domestic Workers, noted that domestic workers have been organising and leading efforts at achieving decent work.

She cited instances of two former domestic workers, who turned leaders of their organisations, after years of violence and harassment at work.

To totally eradicate this menace, she urged countries to ensure domestic workers operate under domestic work convention, adopt laws and policies extending protection to domestic workers.

According to her, only 25 countries have ratified the Domestic Work Convention No. 189, another 30 have adopted laws and policies extending protection to domestic workers, while only 25 countries have ratified the forced labour protocol.

“As ILO is currently discussing the possible adoption of a new legal instrument on violence and harassment in the work place, domestic workers are stepping up and speaking out.

“Around the world, employees who work in isolation, where nobody is watching, are particularly vulnerable to violence and harassment at work. Domestic workers are just such workers,” she said.

She added that countries should ensure that relevant legislations apply to all workers in all sectors, saying: “This obligation is particularly relevant for domestic workers, as they are not always recognised as workers by national legislations, hence they do not benefit from the same rights and protection as others.”

Nigeria is one of the countries yet to domesticate the Work Convention. 

The Human Capital Providers Association of Nigeria (HuCaPAN), said the domestication of the work convention would empower workers to operate under a conducive atmosphere that would boost productivity.

President of HuCaPAN, Aderemi Adegboyega, said the Association has made presentation to the National Assembly, organised education and training workshops with the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment, as well as carried out joint inspections and made alliances with the central labour centres with a view to ensuring employment agencies employed workers under decent working condition. 

Adegboyega explained that under normal circumstances, employment agencies should ensure minimum wage is paid to the least workers, while also being allowed to enjoy freedom of association, eligibility for pension and work under conditions that prevent injuries.  

He hinted that part of the recommendations was to ensure standards in monitoring the people that employ domestic workers, stating that countries smaller than Nigeria have standards they observe in terms of domestic work.

His words: “For Nigeria, we must have our national law in respect of domestic work before we do the ratification.

Even if they ratify the convention on domestic staff or not, we have the responsibility as a country to make sure that these people are protected, what is the standard if you engage a housemaid?

Should you give the person a letter or know the contact of the person?

Should you pay minimum wage to the person? Should you grant the person leave or allow the person to go out in a month as the case may be?

“All these are the standards that we should put in place, and make Nigerians to know their rights, that if you are working at a place as a househelp, that does not mean that you are a slave, you cannot be beaten or subjected to corporal punishment.

“These are the things we need to put in the public domain to make people know their rights even when they are still yet to ratify the convention on domestic workers. 

“Our mantra, has always been wherever a Nigeria is found working, he or she must be engaged in decent work.”


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