An Illicit Trade that Refuses to Die

09 Jul 2013

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The recent global report on human trafficking downgraded Nigeria from Tier 1 to Tier 2 status for the slow government response at combating the illicit trade, Godwin Haruna writes

On the streets of major cities across the world, half-clad young girls wait for customers. Even the harsh weather conditions of most of these cities and the risk of contacting communicable diseases do not restrain them as they lay-in wait to sell their bodies. It is a varient of the modern slave trade christened human trafficking, among many others. For most of the victims, the journey began with sweet stories of eldorado-turned sour. However, some other victims tacitly work  with collaborators to get shipped out to use the words, “hustle”.

Statistics released by various agencies established to combat the illicit trade have revealed Nigeria’s involvement.  While officials of the agency of government set up to eradicate the illegal merchandise in Nigeria, the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons and other related matters (NAPTIP), maintain that they have curbed the incidence, external observers say their effort is too little. For instance, a new report by the United States Department of State released penultimate week fingered funding, weak legislation and poor law enforcement as some of the issues hindering the fight against human trafficking in Nigeria. The widely circulated report made public by the U S Secretary of State, Mr. John Kerry, also revealed that while the Nigerian government has made efforts in eliminating trafficking in persons, there were a number of standards yet to be complied with.

The report stated: “In 2012, a total number of 60 girls aged 16-25 were rescued from slave masters in Ghana and Ivory Coast. While in 2011, 104 Nigerian girls used as sex slaves were evacuated from Mali where they were paid as little as 500 CFAs, that’s N150 for sex”.

According to the report, Nigeria remained in tier 2 status because the “government of Nigeria does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking”.

As if meant to validate the report, days before its release, Nigeria’s ambassador to Russia, Mr. Asam Asam said as many as about 200 Nigerian girls are trafficked every month to Russia for prostitution. Speaking with the Europe correspondent of the News Agency of Nigeria in Berlin, Asam said it was one of the major challenges of the embassy in Russia.

An investigation revealed that the crime has declined in Western Europe following strict laws on illegal migration, and joint efforts by Nigeria and the governments of those countries to curb the menace. The ambassador said 240 Nigerian girls were deported in 2012. However, attention has shifted to Eastern Europe as the new destination for the trade.

The ambassador told NAN: “The major consular challenge we face in Moscow is the influx of trafficked persons from Nigeria, not less than 200 girls are trafficked every month, and we have so many of them exposed to danger.

“Some are thrown out of the window and treated harshly, there must be a way of stopping these racketeering; these girls are not tourists, students or government officials yet they are given visas from the Russian embassy in Abuja. So far we have deported over 240 girls since 2012. You will be shocked at the extent of resistance from the girls; we tell them Russia is not a destination for prostitutes, yet they still come.”

Disturbingly, he said even the parents of those trafficked encourage their children: “I spoke to the mother of one of the girls and she said her daughter should remain in Moscow and try to survive the ordeal, this is very sad indeed coming from one’s parent.”

In the interview, he urged the media on sensitising the public on the dangers of trafficking in Russia, saying “this East European nation has become a new destination for them, and believe me it is a very big crime here.’’

However responding to some of these issues in an interview with THISDAY, Mr. Arinze Orakwe, head of public affairs of NAPTIP

In the US State Department Report, Nigeria was classified as Tier 2. The report gives each nation a “tiered” rating. Tier 1 countries are those that fully comply with international laws and standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. Tier 2 nations are on a watch list as they are making efforts to comply with the Act, but are still struggling with full compliance. Tier 3 countries make no effort to comply with this international standard.

The report said although efforts NAPTIP were notable, it does not simply measure its efforts as an agency, but rather government’s efforts as whole. Justifying its placement of Nigeria in Tier 2, the report cited for example, the government’s non-passage of the draft legislation that would restrict the ability of judges to offer fines in lieu of prison terms during sentencing, and difficulty in identifying trafficking victims by the Nigeria Police.  It added that even the Ministry of Labour did not make any new efforts to address labour trafficking during the period under review, despite the identification of a significant number of labour trafficking victims in the country.

The report therefore urged the Nigerian government, among other remedial measures, to ensure that NAPTIP receives sufficient funding; to take proactive measures to investigate and prosecute government officials suspected of trafficking-related corruption and complicity in trafficking offenses; and to train police and immigration officials to identify trafficking victims. Part of the feeble efforts at combating the illicit trade being complained of is that an Edo State High Court recently sentenced a woman arraigned by NAPTIP to a mere 18-month imprisonment for trafficking young girls to Togo and forcing them into prostitution.

The US Congress, through its passage of the anti-trafficking Act, requires the Secretary of State to submit an annual report to Congress in order to stimulate action and create global partnerships in the fight against modern-day slavery.

Elsewhere in Africa, the report berated Kenya, for a second year in a row, remains on a watch list for being a source, transit and destination for child sex tourism. This year’s human trafficking report shows that the government doesn’t make significant efforts to pursue criminals responsible for sex trafficking through prosecution and do too little to protect victims from criminal sex networks. The US Report downgraded China, Russia and Uzbekistan to the bottom of a table on human trafficking. The three nations had remained for years on the Tier 2 Watch List, having been granted past waivers amid promises to do better. However, China and Russia have rejected the classification and rubbished the human trafficking report as untenable.

The report notes an alarming new trend in human trafficking: “numerous non-state armed groups abducting, recruiting, and exploiting children as combatants, porters, spies, and for sex” in parts of the Middle East and Africa.

Another challenge faced in the effort to stop human trafficking is that those being trafficked are often treated as criminals rather than victims. This is especially true of those who are forced into the sex trade. It noted further: “On-going education of law enforcement is necessary to help identify victims of trafficking, not only so that victims can receive necessary assistance, but that prosecution of criminals can take place.

Treated as criminals, victims can be traumatized by placement in jail and will be less effective witnesses. Further, if victims are treated as criminal and deported they will be unable to support the investigation. This all-too-common practice suppresses the best evidence of trafficking and gets rid of the evidence— undermining prosecutions and often fatally compromising the government’s ability to prosecute a case successfully. Treating victims as what they are, not as criminals, is at the heart of the victim-centered approach to combating trafficking.”

At the launch of the Global Report on Trafficking in Persons in New York recently, the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Antonio Maria Costa said that "many governments are still in denial. There is even neglect when it comes to either reporting on, or prosecuting cases of human trafficking". He pointed to the fact that while the number of convictions for human trafficking is increasing, two out of every five countries covered by the UNODC Report had not recorded a single conviction.

According to the Report, the most common form of human trafficking (79%) is sexual exploitation. The victims of sexual exploitation are predominantly women and girls. Surprisingly, in 30% of the countries which provided information on the gender of traffickers, women make up the largest proportion of traffickers. In some parts of the world, women trafficking women is the norm.

The second most common form of human trafficking is forced labour (18%), although this may be a misrepresentation because forced labour is less frequently detected and reported than trafficking for sexual exploitation.

Worldwide, almost 20% of all trafficking victims are children. However, in some parts of Africa and the Mekong region, children are the majority (up to 100% in parts of West Africa).

"This Report increases our understanding of modern slave markets, yet it also exposes our ignorance", said Costa. "We have a big picture, but it is impressionistic and lacks depth. We fear the problem is getting worse, but we can not prove it for lack of data, and many governments are obstructing", he admitted. The head of UNODC therefore called on governments and social scientists to improve information-gathering and -sharing on human trafficking.  "If we do not overcome this knowledge crisis we will be fighting the problem blindfolded", he warned.

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