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Nigerian women trafficked as sex slaves

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By all accounts, human trafficking is the third biggest criminal enterprise in the world. While illegal arms trade ranks second, drug trafficking comes first. Essentially, human trafficking has become a big international business with no regard for the sanctity of human life. As for Nigeria, it has reached a tipping point and the House of Representatives has raised a red alert, which should not be ignored.

The House of Representatives the other day raised the alarm that the continuous trafficking of Nigerian women would dent the image of the country and provide room for other West African countries to disrespect, not just Nigerian women, but all Nigerians. This is quite instructive. According to the House, even neighboring West African states, which depend on Nigeria for their wellbeing and security, have become notorious in maltreating trafficked Nigerian women, keeping them as sex slaves and providing safe haven for perpetrators of human trafficking.

Furthermore, the representatives decried the increasing number of Nigerian women trafficked to neighbouring African countries as sex slaves. Apart from those in Africa, the House said that several others were scattered around the world in the unholy act as media reports show that Nigerian women and even under-age girls, have been turned into sex slaves in European and several Middle East countries.

Relying on the statistics by the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), the Nigeria’s lower house asserted that between 20,000 and 30,000 Nigerian girls are sex slaves, with 50 additional girls being added to the list everyday. 

Looking at the tactics used for trafficking victims, the House stated that many of the victims were taken away from Nigeria, some in school uniforms; while those victims trafficked to Mali go unaccompanied and ar “way-billed” through Cotonou. The victims whose destinations are Mali, are trafficked mainly to the mining areas in the South and Central part of Mali, but a substantial number are trafficked to rebel held areas in the North of Mali, where they stand the risk of being radicalised.

The House intelligence also revealed that the Nigerian Ambassador to Burkina Faso, Ramatu Ahmed, alerted that no fewer than 10,000 Nigerian women, mainly under-age girls, are forced into prostitution in Ouagadougou and other mining camps across West Africa. Similarly, other victims of trafficking are deceived by friends and relatives to leave Nigeria for greener pastures (mostly domestic work, hair dressing or sales) in Malaysia; only to discover later that they will be used for sex trade.

What is responsible for the increasing rate of human trafficking from Nigeria? While the House blamed Nigerian security agencies at the border, particularly the point between Nigeria and Benin Republic at Seme-Krake, which is notoriously porous for not taking action to curb the practice; despite numerous reports and pictures of notorious trafficking sent to the agencies, experts blame it on an unhappy land, a land where the lowly placed majority can hardly live let alone thrive.
 
Therefore, one cause of human trafficking is widespread poverty. The phenomenon is further aided by ignorance, peer pressure and a false hope of life abundant abroad. This is compounded by insecurity of lives, a weak legal system, porous borders, corrupt government officials and the involvement of international organised criminal networks. There are also cases of false marriage proposals from men to women who plan to sell trafficked victims into bondage as well as the practice of entrusting poor children to more affluent friends or relatives, which creates vulnerability. Disturbingly, some parents also commoditise and sell their children, not just for the money, but also in the hope that those children would escape chronic poverty.

 
This, of course, is a sign of the breakdown of cherished family values, of greed nurtured by poverty and an untold moral decadence that has afflicted the country. Nigeria certainly has not done right by her productive population. No infrastructure for self-actualisation and no succour from the state by way of institutionalised mechanisms for hope. This failure is therefore propelling people to embark on suicide missions in all directions. So, the pervasive wave of illegal migration could be blamed on the unacceptable rate of unemployment in the country, an inefficient and corrupt law enforcement system that is ill-equipped to fight crime, one that is often in collusion with traffickers.

Unfortunately, trafficked victims are mainly subjected to forced labour and forced prostitution in the places they thought would give them hope. Many have died in transit as in the case of 26 female Nigerian migrants, between the ages of 14 and 18, whose bodies were recovered from the Mediterranean by a Spanish Warship, Cantabria in 2017, and eventually taken to the Southern Italian Port of Salerno.

Against this background, the House is commended for being sensitive to one of the issues affecting the lowly placed in the nation; and for mandating the Committee on Human Rights to conduct an investigation into all aspects of sex slavery and recommend appropriate budgeting and legislative measures, including sanctions and cooperation with fellow African countries, to stem the tide. 

Similarly, the House has urged personnel of the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) at the ports and borders of Nigeria to permit officials of NAPTIP, to operate, spot, identify and prevent the illicit emigration of potential victims to foreign lands; and urged NAPTIP to begin to shame the traffickers in their homes, including widespread publication of the names and pictures of convicted traffickers. 
 
However, the issue of human trafficking requires a more integrated approach and a robust Programme of Action (PoA) to stem the tide.  Therefore, NAPTIP the line agency based on the data gathered should come up with a national strategy document and integrated PoA for the prevention of human trafficking and rescue of victims in transit and destination countries. 
 
Furthermore, NAPTIP should spread its dragnet beyond rescue and step up action on investigations and provision of assistance and information that can facilitate the arrest and prosecution of offenders. It should also go beyond having returnee trafficked victims kept in shelters, to be counselled, rehabilitated and reintegrated into the society. The agency should track their stability and progress to consolidate on the gains of rescue and rehabilitation. 

 
Specifically, NAPTIP should reinforce measures in international treaties and conventions on trafficked victim to ensure the safe return of the victims by working in collaboration with other agencies or bodies such as the police, customs, immigration and non-profit organisations (NGOs). NAPTIP should form alliance with some notable NGOs focused on combating human trafficking. The National Orientation Agency (NOA) and the media should raise awareness and educate women and men on the dangers of illegal migration.
 
To ensure the elimination and prevention of the causes of trafficking of women for commercial sex purposes, government and other stakeholders should create economic programmes for girls at the risk of being trafficked. NAPTIP and NOA should embark on social engineering campaigns to sensitise the citizenry on a continuous basis. All told, parents need to train their children on the path of honour as poverty is not an excuse for lack of character. Parents should motivate their children to aspire and work hard for a better tomorrow.


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