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Trafficking in Nigeria

Despite the fact that the incidents of trafficking in children in Nigeria had been going on as far back as the 60s, the public recognition and focus on the issue however heightened only since the mid 90s. The recent awareness of trafficking in Nigeria resulted from the publicity generated by the deportation of trafficked persons for prostitution to Europe and the Middle East, which started in 1994.

The increasing number of deportees who were trafficking victims who engaged in prostitution influenced the equation of trafficking with prostitution to the neglect of trafficking for other forms of labour in Nigeria. A presenter once erroneously defined “trafficking in women” as “ the movement of young girls of ages 13-18 from one country to another by road, Rail Sea or air for the sole purpose prostitution.”

This definition, though incomplete, recognizes that the majority of trafficked victims for prostitution are children below the age of 18. However, it fails to recognize trafficking for other forms of labour. In Nigeria, women and children, especially the girl-children, are victims of trafficking for various forms of labour including prostitution and sexual exploitation. Studies show that in Nigeria children form the largest victims of trafficking both internally and externally.

Types of trafficking

In reality Nigeria experiences internal and external trafficking of children. Internal trafficking of children takes the form of recruitment and transportation of children from the rural areas to the urban and city centres for different forms of labour under exploitative conditions. External trafficking of children is trafficking of children across national borders for different forms of labour also under exploitative and slave -like conditions.

Forms and routes for trafficking of children in Nigeria.

Internal Trafficking :

For decades children predominantly from rural communities such as Shaki in Oyo State, many parts of Akwa-Ibom, Cross River, Benue and Kwara States have been recruited by traffickers and trafficked to cities like, Lagos, Abeokuta, Ibadan, Kano, Calabar and Port -Harcourt.

The modes of recruitment range from voluntary placement of children with traffickers by parents or guardians with their consent to have the children transported to the cities for labour. Sometimes the children out of peer pressure, curiosity for city life and/ or lack of alternative opportunities seek out the traffickers on their own. Occasionally the children are kidnapped by the traffickers or their agents.

The children are usually transported in large numbers, cramped up uncomfortably in lorry roads, through long distances to their various destinations. Research shows that the accommodation provided by traffickers in the cities are usually of very poor standards in most cases a one or two-room apartments to accommodate 20-30 children. The children are made to sleep on bare floors while awaiting placements with prospective employers. Food is provided only for survival and invariably the cost of the provision of the food is deducted from the earnings of the children later at an inflated cost.

There are places in cities such as in Lagos which are notorious as recruitment centres where traffickers hand over children to employers. Studies show that in Asewere, a village between Ondo and Ore in Ondo State of Nigeria, lorry loads of women and children from the South Eastern States of Nigeria are dumped by traffickers and distributed for various forms of labour, including prostitution.

Forms and conditions of labour engaged in by victims of internal trafficking

Traffickers force internally trafficked children into labour such as domestic service, shop-attendance, catering service, head loading, bakery- hands, hawking and prostitution. The conditions of labour are exploitative and slave-like. As domestic workers, for example the children are subjected to about 12- 18 hours of cleaning, baby care, cooking and other forms of household chores and hard work. Such children are the first to get up in the morning and the last to go to bed in the household. Most of the children are denied any form of formal or vocational training; they are poorly
clothed and are kept under very low conditions of living.

The trafficked children usually face sexual abuse from the male members of the household.These children are usually paid a wage of about N1000 or an equivalent of less than $ 10 US dollars per month, which sum is collected by the raffickers. Sometimes the children’s wages are collected a year or more in advance during which the children continue to work without receiving any of their earnings. There are stories that most traffickers do not give the children’s earnings to the parents and guardians as promised at the time of recruitment. Instead, a large percentage of the trafficked children’s wages are deducted as repayment for the upkeep of the children before employment and the facilitation of employment. Transportation costs for the children are paid by the employers.

With the increasing need to augment family finances both couples in households in the cities work outside their homes creating a necessity for a house-help or assistant to perform household chores and mind the children of the family. This need has escalated the demand for children who are cheaper and less security risks for the family. A conservative estimates of domestic servants show that over 80% are children, most of whom are trafficked victims.

Apart from domestic service many of the trafficked children are engaged by shop owners to serve as attendants and sometimes to hawk their employers’ wares. It appears that there is an escalation of street trading in Nigeria since the advent of civil rule in 1999. Most of the hawkers are children who presumably will not be arrested for street trading in the event of police enforcement of the anti-street trading laws. These children hawkers also face various human rights and sexual abuses not only from their employers but also from members of the public. Generally, their conditions of service are as bad as those confronted in domestic service if not worse. In addition, they are denied access to basic
education as well as the proper care and upbringing necessary for children.

Some of the trafficked children are also forced to work as catering assistants where they must assist in cooking before open fires sometimes in the hot sun for several hours. Like other trafficked victims, their salaries are collected by the traffickers, making these children prone to stealing and other vices due to a lack of means. This category of trafficked children is also vulnerable to sexual abuse by the customers.

In some counties bakeries fall under the formal sector, which allows them to be effectively monitored by the labour organizations. Unfortunately, bakeries fall under the informal sector in Nigeria. As such, the majority of bakeries contravene labour laws by employing trafficked children as bakers and hands doing hazardous and strenuous work for long hours before hot ovens.

Some of the victims of internal trafficking are either directly forced into prostitution or end up in prostitution while escaping the hardship and abuses received in other forms of labour they have been forced into. Altogether it is estimated that about 12 million Nigerian children are forced into labour[3] and it could be roughly estimated that about 80% of Nigerian children in forced labour are victims of trafficking.

Forms, routes and conditions for external trafficking.

Nigeria constitutes a recruitment, transit and destination centre for external trafficking of women and children. Like the internal trafficking, children also constitute the majority of the victims of external trafficking.

As a recruitment centre, Nigerian children are recruited predominantly from South Eastern States such as Akwa Ibom, and Cross Rivers and trafficked mostly by sea to Gabon, Cameroon and Guinea to work on farm plantations. Children are also recruited from Shaki in Oyo State and trafficked to Guinea, Mali and Cote Ivoire to work as hawkers and domestic servants.

Not much research has been conducted on the forms of recruitment of this type of trafficking but there is evidence that those recruited are children from poor family background and mostly from rural communities. The mode of transportation usually by sea is mostly under deplorable conditions “only comparable to the 18th century trans- Saharan slave trade”.

Nigerian children are also trafficked to European Countries and the Middle East for prostitution and sexual exploitation. The trend for the trafficking of Nigerians to European countries, especially Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain and more recently England started manifesting in the 80s but reached alarming proportions towards the mid and latter part of the 90s up until now.

Even without specific data, the few studies conducted show that thousands of Nigerian women and children have been trafficked to Europe, particularly Italy. According to the Nigerian Ambassador to Italy, a survey indicates that over 10,000 Nigerians are engaged in prostitution in Italy. This large number is buttressed by the declaration of the then Italian Ambassador to Nigeria that Nigerian girls constitute 60% of all prostitutes in the sex trade in Italy.

Research findings also show that most of the trafficked victims for prostitution are children at the time of travel. The recruitment of girls for trafficking en route to Europe are predominantly from Edo and Delta states. There are also records of recruitments from other states such as Imo, Enugu, Ogun, Anambra and Akwa-Ibom. For the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia, recruitment of girls is predominantly from Northern Nigeria, especially Kano, Kwara and Kaduna States.

The usual bait for luring the Nigerian girls into trafficking for prostitution is a false promise of employment to earn the much valued foreign exchange, vocational training, or marriage. Those trafficked to Saudi Arabia are usually offered an opportunity to perform the holy pilgrimage to Mecca, an Islamic injunction and an opportunity for importation of high profit items. With recent publicity, some awareness has been created as to the true nature of the employment which is prostitution. In spite of this information, many children still fall prey to traffickers through the active connivance of family members who coerce the children into trafficking.

With heightened demand for young girls in the global sex trade came the increase in the recruitment of children for external trafficking. Girls between the ages of 12-18 are recruited and some of them medically propped up to look older and meet the required statistics of “young, slim and attractive”.

Due to many factors including the escalating level of poverty, lack of viable opportunities, fallen family values, the attraction to earn foreign exchange which is more valuable than the local currency and the desire to get rich quick, many parents and guardians will use any means to force their children into the trafficking ring. They make sacrifices such as the sale of their properties to make N20000-N40000 (an equivalent of about $200-400 US dollars) deposits to traffickers on behalf of their children.

After recruitment the victim and her family member are subjected to oaths of secrecy before traditional shrines. The victim’s body parts like pubic hairs; blood, fingernails and personal items such as pants are collected and used for the oath taking rituals. This oath taking ritual has a multi-purpose effect on the victims, some of which are “to instill fear of terrible reprisals such as death or madness if the oaths are broken by the victim;” “to attract customers for the victims” and “to protect the trafficked victims against HIV/AIDS diseases.” To further perfect the transaction, the traffickers or their agents engage the services of lawyers to draw up a tripartite agreement referred to as a “Friendly Agreement”.

The routes taken to the various destinations are dynamic and are as varied as the different syndicated gangs of traffickers. Some of the most common routes are from Nigeria through the neighbouring countries of Republics of Benin and Togo to Ghana or Mali where orientation and change of identities are conducted for those to travel by air. Another route is through North African countries like Morocco or Libya and through the Suez Canal to Britain and other parts of Europe. In recent times there has been an increase in young girls claiming asylum in Britain but who are however lured into trafficking for prostitution in Europe. The porous borders in West Africa facilitated by the ECOWAS Treaty,
allows easy passage for the trafficking of women and children from Nigeria and neighbouring countries using Nigeria either as recruitment as well as transit country to Europe.

On arrival at destinations in Europe or the Middle East, the personal belongings of the trafficked children, including travel documents, are confiscated and they are forced into prostitution and repayment bonds of amounts raging between $30000-$50000 U.S. Dollars. This repayment schedule sometimes necessitates the children engaging in unprotected sex with 10-20 partners in a day. An average repayment lasts from 3-5 years, but some victims, especially those trafficked to Saudi Arabia never get freedom from the bondage. The Madams may terminate the transaction prematurely to her benefit by alerting the European Authorities that the victim is an illegal immigrant, if the victims fall ill or contracts HIV/AIDS, or if the victim has almost completed the repayment schedule.

In addition, the trafficked victims are subjected to physical abuse resulting in serious bodily harm or death by their traffickers or Madams. Between the 1994 and 1998 about 116 Nigerian Prostitutes were reported dead in Italy from the hands of their customers or through the Madams.

Since 1994 there has been an increase in the massive deportation victims of trafficking for prostitution. According to an unofficial police report, over 1000 Nigerian women and girls have been deported from Europe between January and April 2001 and over 2000 from Saudi Arabia. The deportation has generated a great deal of publicity, which has prompted national attention to the issue. Because of this, reference to trafficking appears to be limited to trafficking for prostitution while ignoring the almost age-old trafficking for other forms of labour.

As far back as the 1960s, Nigeria has been the destination country of mostly children from neighbouring Republics of Benin, Togo and Ghana who are forced into domestic service. These children are between 5 and 18 years old and are recruited by traffickers most times with the consent of their parents and guardians and sometimes through kidnapping. Upon arrival in Nigerian urban centres in the South West such as Lagos and Abeokuta, the trafficked foreign children are forced to serve as nannies, housekeepers, shop attendants, head loaders, hawkers, and employed to do odd jobs in the informal sector. In the characteristic manner of trafficking, the conditions of labour are slave-like with little or no benefits to the trafficked children. Some of the family members benefit disproportionately to the traffickers who make most of the profit in the illegal trade. Most of the middle class homes in city centres are found to engage children as domestics and the streets are filled with children hawkers and head loaders, most of who are trafficked children from within and outside Nigeria.

Root factors and social implications of trafficking in children

With the dwindling economy especially since the misrule of the military regime in Nigeria came the unprecedented escalation of engagement of children in labour. The labour industry, particularly the informal sector, have been fed by the trafficking trade. Some of the root factors for the reenactment of this modern form of slavery have been attributed to poverty and its attendant consequences. Other factors include the devaluation of the local currency, which has made the acquisition of foreign exchange more attractive. In addition the fallen standard of family values, lack of parental control and general avarice for wealth have contributed immensely to the escalation of the illegal trade of trafficking.

The social implications are manifold on the development of the nation. As the subjection of children to slave-like labour, some of which are the worst forms of labour, has seriously impaired the growth and development of Nigerian children who are the bedrock of the society. The trafficked children are denied education, basic standard of living and fundamental human rights, dignity and freedom in negation of the Nigerian Constitution and International Instruments for the protection of the rights of the child.

In fact, the low level of the societal perception of children in Nigeria makes Nigerians readily accept and ignore the criminality of trafficking of children for forced labour. Undoubtedly trafficking of human beings is a heinous crime according to Nigerian and International Laws. Unfortunately there has not been any recorded arrest and successful prosecution to conviction of any trafficker. In reality, the traffickers of children for forms of labour other than prostitution are not regarded as criminals, hence there is no record of any arrest of traffickers of children for domestic labour.