They buy and sell women, girls for money?
THERE are these four stickers produced by the Ajegunle Community Projects pasted on my door. They make me reflect on the status of womanhood in Nigeria. The stickers encourage everyone to create a culture that says ‘No to violence against women’. The second sticker is a quip. It says: What a woman cannot do, cannot be done. I find the third and fourth stickers making very serious statements that I think you and I should consider. ‘Real men don’t abuse women’ and ‘He is educated and successful, respected in the community, is deeply religious, but he beats his wife’. There is yet another one ascribed to the Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC). It reads, “If you educate a woman, you educate the whole world”. Adult women make up the largest group of sex-trafficking victims, followed by the girl-children although a small percentage of men and boys are trafficked into the sex industry as well. Nearly every country in the world is involved in the illegal and lucrative business.
But what really is human trafficking? It is an illegal form of slavery that involves the transport of or trade in people for the purpose of work. It involves both sexual and labour exploitation of the victims. It is a situation where victims are taken from all that is familiar to him or her to an environment or isolated habitation for cruel means. Extreme poverty is a common bond among trafficking victims. Most large industries use women and children for work in the factories at night, making one to think that they are helping families to survive by placing meals on their tables. Some are tricked or lured with offers of legitimate and legal work as shop assistants or waitresses. Others are promised marriage, educational opportunities and a better life. Still, others are sold into trafficking by boyfriends, friends, neighbours or even parents who cannot stand hunger.
It has caused a lasting mental and emotional effect on the victims as well as the physical wellbeing of women and girls. Beyond the physical abuse, trafficked women suffer extreme emotional stress, including shame, grief, fear, distrust and suicidal thoughts. Victims often experience post-traumatic stress disorder, and with that, acute anxiety, depression and insomnia. Many victims turn to drugs and alcohol to numb their pain. Women and girls are typically trafficked into the commercial sex industry, i.e. prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation. Victims are sometimes taken away from home under false assumptions that the person is a witch or wizard. They are often tortured, beaten, caged or imprisoned as means of punishment.
These women or girls are forcibly raped by the traffickers in order to initiate the cycle of abuse and degradation. Some women are drugged in order to prevent them from escaping and are vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases, HIV infection and unwanted pregnancies, thus help in spreading HIV and other STDs to their young victims and creating localized epidemics. The largest number of victims of human traffickers is from Africa, Asia, and Southern America. However, according to the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC), the greatest numbers of traffickers are from Asia, followed by Central and Southeastern Europe, and Western Europe. But a Trafficking In Persons Report 2014 published by the United States Embassy, Abuja, said that Nigeria is a veritable source and destination for the trafficking of women. The report further states that Nigerian traffickers rely on threats of voodoo curses to control Nigerian victims and force them into situations of prostitution or labour.
Nigerian women and girls are taken from the country to other West and Central African countries, as well as to South Africa, where they are exploited for the same purposes. Children from West African countries – primarily Benin, Ghana and Togo – are forced to work in Nigeria, and many are subjected to hazardous labour in Nigeria’s granite mines. Nigerian women and girls – primarily from Benin City in Edo State – are subjected to forced prostitution in Italy while those from other states are subjected to forced prostitution in Spain, Scotland, the Netherlands, Germany, Turkey, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Ireland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Greece and Russia.
Nigerians are also recruited and transported to destinations in North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, where they are held captive in the sex trade or forced labour. Nigerian gangs subject large numbers of their countrywomen to forced prostitution in the Czech Republic and Italy, and the European Police Organization (EUROPOL) has identified Nigerian-organized crime related to trafficking in persons as one of the largest law enforcement challenges to European governments. The report on trafficking in persons 2014 recommends a passage and implementation of the draft anti-trafficking bill, which would amend the anti-trafficking law, to give prosecutors more authority and restrict the ability of judges to offer fines in lieu of prison term during sentencing. It also said that it is important for Nigeria to vigorously pursue trafficking investigations, prosecute trafficking offences, and adequately sentence convicted traffickers, including imprisonment whenever appropriate.
We support these recommendations and call for the protection of the image of the victims. People, who sell people, must be brought to justice. We must discourage parents and guardians from introducing their girls and women to such reprehensible business. Our government should monitor and take quick action on any information from other sources. Government should provide cash incentives for innovative projects benefiting women and girls.
I also want to encourage the soroptimists to continue helping directly and indirectly victims and potential victims with their projects, which provide women with economic tools and skills to achieve financial empowerment and independence. National and international institutions should attempt to regulate and enforce anti-trafficking legislations.
•Okpolokpo is assistant editor, Bob MajiriOghene Communications, Benin City.