Determined to tackle the menace of human trafficking in the country, the federal government has concluded arrangements to send a bill to the National Assembly, proposing between five to seven years for anyone found guilty of the crime, Davidson Iriekpen writes
To checkmate the activities of human traffickers in the country, the federal government has approved a draft bill that will be sent to the National Assembly towards tightening the loose-ends of the nation’s laws on the menace.
The bill was approved during one of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meetings in January 2013, following a presentation of a memorandum by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Mohammed Bello Adoke (SAN). The memorandum sought approval for the bill entitled ‘Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition), Enforcement and Administration Bill, 2012.’
It argued that the existing legal framework for addressing the subject matter, which is the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition), Law Enforcement and Administration Act, 2003 (as amended), is fraught with deficiencies and grossly inadequate to effectively combat the scourge of human trafficking in the country.
According to the memorandum, several provisions in the existing law are not consistent with the requirements of the Trafficking in Persons Protocol, Supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime, (Palermo Convention), 2000.
The memorandum explained that “the principal objective of the current bill is to repeal and cure the defects in the existing law and reposition the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons for effective delivery on its mandate and provide for a more comprehensive legal and institutional framework for the prohibition, prevention, detection, prosecution and punishment of human trafficking offences in Nigeria.”
No doubt human trafficking is a menace in the country. For several years now, rather than abate, the scourge, both at the domestic and international levels, has continued to thrive. Although a lot has been done towards eradicating the menace, but the traffickers have perfected the act. According to reports, traffickers are more organised in carrying out their activities and thus making the fight a serious challenge.
According to statistics, 45,000 Nigerian women are trafficked to Europe yearly to engage in a dehumanizing means to eke a living such as prostitution forced on them by barons while young children are moved across borders to mainly Gabon and Benin Republic to provide cheap labour by criminal networks.
What is particularly disturbing to some analysts is that the focus is shifting from trans-border trade in adults to impressionable young people, because they are easier to exploit and manipulate. That is why, almost on a regular basis, Nigeria is confronted with harrowing reports of the interception of lorry loads of kids packed like sardines being moved into virtual slavery in neighbouring countries, or even destinations in Nigeria. The socio-economic consequences of this ugly trend to the country are enormous.
Here in the country, children who should ordinarily be in school are moved from rural areas to the big cities where they now serve as nannies and house-workers. These children are subjected to harrowing experiences by the people who engage their services.
To a lot of these people, various reasons are attributed to this inhuman behaviour which are premised on poverty. Most times, the victims often cite deepening poverty as constituting some of the main reasons why they engage in the practice, and why it is difficult to curtail it.
Some families knowingly and willingly permit their children to engage in cross-border illicit trade with the hope that doing so would reduce their economic burden. In other instances, parents encourage their female children to embark on the sometimes hazardous journey to Europe where they end up as prostitutes or virtual slaves. Earnings from such trade are thereafter sent back home. The need might be to build a house; pay for the education of siblings; or simply to aspire into a higher social status.
Though the setting up of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and Other Related Matters (NAPTIP) may have helped in reducing the menace, but to analysts, more still need to be done in tackling the menace. For instance, the 2012 annual trafficking report, which was released in the US indicated that Nigeria dropped on the ranking list.
According to the United States Department of State, the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report is the US Government’s principal diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments in the global anti-human trafficking campaign.
The report places each country into one of three tiers, based on the extent of their governments’ efforts to comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking, which are enshrined in Section 108 of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA).
The former US Secretary of State, Mrs Hilary Clinton, in her statement during the release of the report last year, noted that as many as 27 million people around the world were victims of modern-day slavery, which “we sometimes call trafficking in persons.”
“Those victims of modern slavery are women and men, girls and boys, and their stories remind us of the kind of inhumane treatment we are capable of perpetrating as human beings,” she said. The drop in Nigeria rating in the US report to some extent indicated that Nigeria had not fully complied with the minimum standard set out in the TVPA but was making significant efforts to comply with them.
Despite the news from the US, to many local observers, there hasn’t been anything to show the menace is abating. Speaking during the Child Welfare Orientation Network’s campaign against child trafficking on how human traffickers operate, its National Coordinator, Mr. Lucky Chukwuemeka Durueke, stated that traffickers usually make promises of better life, employment and education to people.
According to him, these promises are not true as they are ploys to recruit children and girls whom they will later introduce into prostitution and child slavery. He cautioned parents against strangers with good promises of better lives for their children.
“There is a need to be careful at this time as I consider it a dangerous time as human traffickers consider this the best time to recruit children by promising to take them to a place where life is easy, they deceive parents by giving them offers that has nothing in it at the end. The bottom-line is that lots of children are trafficked at the start of a new year,” he said.
In the same manner, The National Director, Media Campaign Against Human Trafficking, Mrs. Anne Abok, revealed that the manner in which the human traffickers operate is simple and it spreads to all communities.
“The way these people work is very simple and it applies to all communities. What happens is that we have a source community which is where the traffickers go to recruit the girls and sometimes take them to a transit community which is not a final destination for the girls to start practicing prostitution. It is actually a place where they keep them until they are ready to take them to the next place which is the destination. Most source communities are vulnerable villages.”
Stating why human trafficking is still a serious threat to the society, a representative of Women Trafficking and Child Labour Eradication Foundation (WOTCLEF), Mrs. Jummai Madaki who was also present at the workshop acknowledged human trafficking to be an illegal but lucrative business.
She said, “human trafficking is bad and should be fought on all sides. We must consider the fact that it is a drain on our economy. Some of these girls who are prostituting outside would have given their best in this country and contribute to the growth and development that could make Nigeria a better place.”
“Human trafficking kills us politically and economically as these people travel out and do just anything to make money. But if they can return back to Nigeria and channel this energy back to the nation, Nigeria will become a better place.”
Giving insights into strategies that could be adopted in combating the societal menace, the programme officer with the West Africa Civil Society Forum, Mr. Kop’ep Dabugat, listed advocacy as part of the strategies which could be used in combating human trafficking.
“The most effective strategy in combating human trafficking is advocacy. It is important that advocacy begins from the communities, goes round and comes back to the communities. It begins from identifying the problems of a community and goes on to defining and understanding the problems of communities.
“It also goes on to empower communities to act on solving the problems. Another thing that advocacy does is that, it also takes up issues at a higher level beyond the communities. That is why I said that everything begins and ends with advocacy.”
While the bill is still in the incubator, many analysts have expressed reservation on whether it will not go the way of other laws in the country that hardly send offenders to jail.
Also, observers have posited that while the proposed anti-human trafficking law is a positive move, the five to seven-year jail term for convicted offenders is certainly not a commensurate punishment. They want the National Assembly to exercise its powers and stiffen the provision for penalty that will effectively deter unscrupulous individuals who engage in the crime. Most importantly, however, is the issue of attacking the problem from the root on the part of the government at all levels.
Since human trafficking is a global problem, the analysts also call on the international community to be actively involved in confronting the challenge squarely through concerted efforts. This, they said, should aim at exposing the syndicates behind the evil business.
Much cooperation, they added, is particularly required from states and countries that are frequently associated with international prostitution for the fight to achieve any meaningful success.
On her part, the Executive Secretary of NAPTIP, Mrs Beatrice Jedy-Agba, feels strongly of her agency’s commitment to checking the menace of human trafficking.
“The U.S. government has adopted the ‘whole of society’ approach in this assessment, which automatically removes the outcome from the reins of the agency, as the indices used are not entirely within the control of NAPTIP.
“However, it is a clarion call on all tiers of government to close ranks and step up actions to rid the country of the scourge of human trafficking,” she said.
Jedy-Agba said that the agency was developing a five-year strategic plan to ensure effective response to emerging trends in the human trade, while strengthening the agency’s coordination capacity and functions. She said that the main thrust of the plan was to improve synergy between all the stakeholders and partners involved in the anti-human trafficking crusade.
“The traffickers usually make false promises of a better life abroad and earning money in dollars. “Eventually, these girls end up becoming prostitutes to pay their so-called ‘sponsors’ who took them there,” she said.
The NAPTIP boss said that many Nigerian girls were hoodwinked into partaking in the booming sex trade in Cote d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso, adding that the agency would use its available resources to bring the hapless girls home for rehabilitation. Jedy-Agba said that unemployment and poverty were the major factors responsible for human trafficking, adding that if these factors were tackled decisively, people would no longer be deceived and ensnared in the human trafficking web.
“The three tiers of government must take a holistic and coordinated approach to address factors such as poverty, unemployment, collapse of family values and erosion of our cultural values,” she said.