Rebecca Ejifoma writes that Terre Des Hommes Foundation in collaboration with Child Protection Network, alongside the media and civil society organisations, recently converged to clamour for policies to protect migrant children
Determined to reach better strategies to protect child migration, Terre Des Hommes Foundation, an international organisation protecting migrant children and every child in Nigeria and ECOWAS nations, in collaboration with Child Protection Network, the media and civil society groups recently called for policies and laws for ensure the safety and protection of children across Africa.
This was the thrust of a two-day workshop for journalists in Lagos. Tagged, ‘Child mobility and trafficking’, the training was aimed to improve the protection of migrant children along the Abidjan-Lagos corridor to reduce their vulnerability and enhance their access to development opportunities.
One of such cases was that of Togwe (surname withheld), a Beninoise, who was trafficked into Nigeria at age 17. Given the efforts of IOM, and Terre Des Hommes, who facilitated her rescue, she will soon be reunited with her family in Benin Republic. Togwe, who was renamed Titilayo on her arrival in Nigeria, was used as a househelp in Ojuore area of Sango-Ota Ogun State in 2013.
Togwe is one among the many trafficked and migrant children rescued by the agencies involved. While some remembered their last names and home addresses, some were not lucky.
On this development, the Child Protection Network Coordinator for Lagos, Mrs. Ngozi Okoro, said they have seen such cases whereby the rescued persons have forgotten their identities. She said: “There was once a migrant child from Benin Republic, who was rescued. But the mistake the rescuers made was not getting his real name. He came in as a little boy. But now he doesn’t know where he is from. And he is already in the university in Nigeria. We have taken him to Benin. He stayed for a month then returned after his efforts to reunite with his family was futile.”
Pointing out that not every child on the move is trafficked, Head of Country Office, Terre Des Hommes, Mrs. Olapeju Osoba, emphasised on the need for protective measures to be put in place for children who are on the move but are not necessarily trafficked.
She said: “So the idea of child mobility within West Africa is to say that not all children that are on the move are trafficked. But we must provide support and protection even for the children who move without being trafficked.”
She, however, maintained that while they fight trafficking, they should also provide protection for children on the move. According to her, migration is a global issue, thus, we cannot isolate the ones that happened within West Africa from what is going on in the whole world, adding that research has shown that more than 60 per cent of movement happens within the West African region.
The child protection expert further noted that more than 60 per cent of people who migrate, do so within the West African region. She said: “If that is true, then it means we cannot continue to pretend that migration is not an issue within West Africa.”
Considering the economic status of Nigeria in west Africa, its population and other factors, Osoba noted that Nigeria is more of a destination point for those people generally who are coming from other West Africa countries, children inclusive.
She said: “Nigeria has to accept that the people who migrate to this area must also be protected because migrants have rights. When they arrive here, they should be protected. Their right as migrants should also be protected.
“Hence, Nigeria has to evolve in her laws, policies and documents to ensure that those who move in and out are protected wherever they are found.
Migration itself is not the problem, the problems are the risks linked to it. Because people have always moved from time immemorial, and till tomorrow, people will continue to move. We cannot stop them from moving, but we can ensure that people move the right way. We discourage irregular migration and that is when people move but not within the laws of the land.
Speaking, the interpreter and translator, Advocacy and Communication Officer, Migration Project in Nigeria (CORAL), Mr. Olakunle Peter told journalists that there were several factors prompting many under aged persons to move.
He added that migrant children are vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, coercion, trafficking, violence, delinquency and violent extremism. He said: “They are exposed to hard labour, deprivation, segregation and lack of access to basic social services in their host environment.”
Noting that many of the migrant children could neither read nor write, Peter decried that many of them have no access to education, thus, their fundamental rights are being violated on a daily basis.
According to the communications officer, the general objective of CORAL Project is to improve the protection of migrant children along the corridor Abidjan-Lagos, adding that this is to reduce their vulnerability and to improve their access to development opportunities.
He further explained that the concept of child mobility goes beyond the movement of a child from point A to B, but also considers the changes, the transformation, experience, risks and the opportunities such a child can come across, be it in his or her transit or destination point.