Kaine Agary on human trafficking in Nigeria

Human trafficking involves the recruitment, transportation, harbouring and receipt of persons usually for illicit purposes. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) recognises that human trafficking occurs both domestically and across national borders.

Article 3, paragraph (a) of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons defines ‘Trafficking in Persons’ as:

the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.’

In Nigeria, the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Law Enforcement and Administration Act 2003 defines trafficking to include all acts and attempted acts involved in the recruitment, transportation within or across Nigerian borders purchases, sale, transfer, receipt or harbouring of a person involving the use of deception, coercion or debt bondage for the purpose of placing or holding the person whether for or not in involuntary servitude (domestic, sexual or reproduction) in force or bonded labour, or in slavery-like condition.

Human trafficking is a multidimensional crime which has a mix of economics, culture, religion, and politics in its foundation. The diversity of Nigeria offers fertile ground for the recruitment of persons to feed the various tributaries of global human trafficking. With the declining fortunes of the lower and middle classes, the recruitment of persons, despite the reported hazards, is easier for those involved in the crime.

In late 2017, news reports and video footage of the slave trade in Libya sparked outrage across the world, including Nigeria. Men, women and children from Nigeria and other parts of Africa are all victims of the networks of human trafficking in Libya. These persons, are trapped in uncertainty, between the life they are escaping and the life they dream of. The revelations from Libya forced the Nigerian government to take action in repatriating some of the victims of Nigerian origin. More importantly, the ensuing discussions recognised the domestic incidences of human trafficking and started a conversation around that issue.

Domestically, the problem involves mostly children who are taken from rural areas with a promise of education and personal advancement. Typically, a relation or friend of the family approaches the parents of a child in the village who are struggling to keep up with the demands of providing for their children. The relation or friend signifies interest in one of the children and makes a “deal’ with the parents. This deal is usually that the child will be taken to the city to work as a domestic servant and in exchange will be given the opportunity to go to school or learn a trade. Unfortunately, where the poor parents fall into the hands of traffickers, what happens is that the child is taken to the city and worked to the bone under horrendous conditions; sometimes working up to 20 hours a day to meet the demands of keeping the host family comfortable. The promise of an education is forgotten and where by some stroke of luck the child is sent to school, they are sent to public schools where the quality of the education they receive is often of a very poor standard. These cases of children being saddled with the responsibility of taking care of children has turned fatal in recent reported cases, where by accident (sometimes by design), these overworked, frustrated children have taken the lives of the children in their care.

Another group of trafficked persons in the domestic sphere are teenagers and young adult women who are recruited into baby-making factories often referred to as maternity clinics or homes, under the guise of being assisted out of their predicament. Sometimes, these teenagers and young adult women have become pregnant involuntarily or out of wedlock and seek the shelter of these homes that take them in, provide shelter, food and minimal healthcare until the babies are born. These babies are then sold off to women who are unable to have a child of their own but wish to maintain the pretence of having done so. Some women are impregnated by men in the service of the homes, in exchange for a loan. Although there have been advances in the acceptance of assisted reproduction in the form of In-Vitro Fertilisation in Nigeria, the sector is still largely self-regulated and surrogacy is not a topic of open discussion. Legislation is yet to catch up with the advances in the sector. Adoption on the other hand is regulated by statute, but cultural beliefs still dictate its acceptance. There is still a lot of secrecy involved in adoption where parents do not want to reveal that a child has been adopted. These ‘homes’ offer an alternative.

By far the most talked about group of trafficked persons are those who are trafficked internationally for the purpose of prostitution. The dynamics of this group are complex. These persons are usually adults looking to provide a better life for themselves and their families. Some of them bow under family pressure to follow in the path of a community member who has, through these means, attained certain comforts for their family in the community. For instance, trafficked persons have built houses for their families in the village, and their monthly repatriations of foreign currency afford their families a lifestyle of relative comfort. Although some of these trafficked persons voluntarily make the journey across the border of Nigeria in search of a better life, that unfortunately is not the end of the story. What comes after is a tale of exploitation, secrecy, blackmail and sometimes death.

This article is the first part in our four-part human trafficking series. For more information on human trafficking, see Bloomsbury Professional's recent publication: Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery: Law and Practice. 

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