MODERN SLAVERY VIA HUMAN TRAFFICKING

Emitomo Tobi Nimisire
5 min readSep 11, 2021

--

My earliest memory of the economic exploitation of trafficked children is of the girls — commonly called egun to alienate them — who ran errands for *Ms. K, a sophisticated old landlady on my street in Ibadan. The girls had a hard time communicating whenever Ms K sent them to my mother because they didn’t understand English and were inaudible in the trickle of Yoruba they could mutter. There were new faces every year; each girl went home for holiday and never returned. The cheapness of labour and total subjugation of girls who were trafficked into Nigeria from neighbouring African countries such as Benin Republic, Togo, Senegal, and Ghana made them much sought-after for underpaid domestic work.

This is despite the fact that the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others on December 2, 1949, criminalizing all forms of modern slavery, including human trafficking, sexual and economic exploitation, forced marriage, and child labour.

To eradicate human trafficking in Nigeria, the Federal Government adopted the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Law in 2003, which prohibits all forms of trafficking and slavery, in line with the UN Human Trafficking Protocol. The National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) was established this year to effectively monitor cases of human trafficking in the country. The aforementioned law was amended in 2015 to include a minimum penalty of five years imprisonment and 1 million Naira for both sex and labour trafficking.

Despite the existence of this law and the agency, International Organization for Migration (IOM), Italy published a report in 2017 which estimated that 80 per cent of girls who were potential victims of sex trafficking entering Italy via sea were from Nigeria. Girls are trafficked outside the country, either forcefully or with the faux promise of a better life as in the case of Osato Osaro, one of the 26 young Nigerian women who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea when the overloaded inflatable boats they were travelling on from Africa to Europe capsized in November 2017, hurling the IOM and its rescue workers into an unforgettable moment of dismay. Girls like Adaura who survive the excruciating experience of travelling on land through places such as the Sahara Desert are raped and beaten by their traffickers until they arrive at their destination, where they are further sexually exploited and subjected to inhumane treatments.

Non-governmental organizations that provide support and rehabilitation services for survivors of human trafficking serve as harbours for those who eventually escape the shackles of their traffickers. One of such organizations is Pathfinders Justice Initiative (PJI), a social justice initiative that seeks to eradicate sex trafficking and exploitation in Nigeria.

During my interview with her, R. Benson-Evon Idahosa, Founder and Executive Director of PJI, explained that there are multiple underlying issues causing what we end up seeing on the surface as trafficking. “One of the root causes we’ve discovered is lack of economic opportunities and basic social services for marginalized women and girls, which creates additional vulnerability traffickers take advantage of. Another thing that causes trafficking is a lack of inclusive community awareness and education. Part of what we are doing is to address these root causes directly, in an effort to solve the issue on a more substantive level, because it would be superficial to only respond by providing support for survivors.”

I inquired from her who traffickers are, and she told me about a research PJI conducted, which focused on sex traffickers in Oredo local government area in Benin. “The report revealed that there is a broad range of profiles of the people who are recruiting and providing support to the trafficking chain. From mothers to pastors, husbands and boyfriends, to businesswomen who were trafficking survivors themselves and are now trafficking other women and girls. There is a group of young men known as “Purray boys” who are married to Madams who are traffickers overseas; these boys come back to Nigeria to recruit on behalf of their Madams.”

Just like most local Non-governmental organizations, one of the major challenges PJI faces is insufficient funding. “Survivors of human trafficking contact us daily, and right now we have a waiting list because we don’t have the resources to support all the women. Since we started, there hasn’t been any time we did not have a waiting list. We also provide support for women who have not yet been trafficked, in order to prevent that from happening,” she explained.

“To eliminate human trafficking in Nigeria, PJI is tackling sociocultural norms and paradigms that devalue women and girls and keep them from accessing important opportunities. We are also focusing on changing some policies and legislations that allow sex trafficking to happen; traffickers keep operating because they know they can get away with it. NAPTIP does not have enough funding to process the prosecution of many cases,” she said as we rounded off the interview.

Women Trafficking and Child Labour Eradication Foundation (WOTCLEF) is another Non-governmental organization in Nigeria that provides human trafficking survivors with survivor-centred and paralegal services.

Mrs Imaobong Ladipo-Sanusi, the executive director of WOTCLEF, briefed me on how the organization supports survivors referred to them. “First, we rescue the survivor from the presumed traffic and exploitative conditions. Next, we receive and give them their immediate needs including medical care, as some survivors come with wounds. We put them in our shelter, in which each individual has their personal space and basic needs, such as toiletries and clothing. We also provide psychosocial support to the survivors. We train them in soft and life skills and enrol them in school. Presently, five of them are in university, nine are in primary school and others are in Junior and senior secondary schools. We facilitate indoor and outdoor recreational activities for these survivors because they are used to exploitation, sleep deprivation, and the violation of their fundamental human rights. The duration the survivors spend in our shelter depends on their holistic support service — ranging from 24 hours to weeks, months, and even years. Sometimes, we have to do family tracing to find families of victims who don’t want to stay.”

“Most of these survivors are female, aged 2 years and above, depending on how their traffickers intend to exploit them. They are mostly used for domestic servitude.”

To curb human trafficking, Mrs Imaobong proposes that “all stakeholders, especially religious leaders, should be trained to create awareness on what human trafficking is and condemn it.”

I wonder if those girls who worked for Ms K really went home for holiday were taken to other houses where they are presently slaving away, or rescued to live in shelters. I hope it’s the latter.

Disclaimer: A name in this article has been replaced with “Ms K” to protect the privacy of the individual.

This article was originally published on Trulyco.

--

--

Emitomo Tobi Nimisire

Writer, SRHR Consultant, Communications Strategist, and Feminist Researcher. Older work can be experienced at www.nimisire.wordpress.com.