TACKLING HUMAN TRAFFICKING IN NIGERIA
The law against trafficking must be strengthened
An International conference on trafficking in women and children was held last week at Terra Kulture, Lagos with the theme: “Women and children as new tools of trade in the 21st Century: Exploring policy, research, community and legal frameworks for addressing human trafficking.” At the sessions, several of the speakers described how the human trafficking victims – mostly hapless young women and girls in the age bracket of 10-21 years – are deceptively procured by some barons through their Nigerian agents. They are thereafter trafficked to different countries abroad where they suffer sexual exploitation, emotional distress, disorientation, depression and sometimes death.
The tales of what most of the victims go through are as gory as they are heart-rending. For instance, a social worker counselling some of the rescued girls detained at one of the shelters of the National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and Other Related Matters (NAPTIP) narrated how a 13-year old girl who was trafficked and detained at a certain sex camp abroad managed to telephone her mother and tearfully narrated how her traffickers were forcing her to “carry” at least six men every day. But the hapless mother could only advise her to continue to bear the burden.
What is even more disturbing is that this most heinous crime is no longer restricted to people. The growing trend now is trafficking in human organs and women embryos. At the conference, one of the speakers shocked the participants when he narrated how some Nigerian women are usually administered drugs that cause ovarian hyper stimulation in order to extract their eggs. In what was described as a booming trade, some women in Abuja are said to be selling their eggs for the sum of N500,000.
Beyond mere lamentation, now is the time for all level of governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), Churches and Mosques to pull resources together to effectively tackle the human trafficking scourge and its allied crime of organ trafficking. It is obvious that NAPTIP seems overwhelmed by the enormity of the challenge. Therefore the agency should seek the partnership of foreign human trafficking experts to assist it in the surveillance and monitoring of our porous borders.
There is also the legal angle to the menace. A study of the 208 convictions obtained by NAPTIP from 2004 to 2013 indicates that the punishment meted out to human trafficking offenders is ridiculous compared to the crime. Therefore the NAPTIP Act should be amended so that human trafficking offences will be punishable with long or mandatory sentences. It is a mockery of criminal justice to impose a three-year sentence with an option of fine on a person convicted of procuring young girls for prostitution abroad.
More importantly, government should tackle youth unemployment. It is obvious that an unemployed or underemployed hand is an easy prey. Most Nigerian girls become victims because of their quest for gainful employment and a better life abroad. Besides, the continuous pressures on the family in present times have resulted in some parents abandoning their primary responsibilities of raising their children in an upright manner. There is need for critical stakeholders, especially the religious institutions, to help in strengthening the family institution.
All said, trafficking in human person and in human organs in Nigeria cannot be combated without the effective reform of the country’s criminal justice system. The NAPTIP officials who attended last week conference cited corruption and slow judicial process as the main obstacles in bringing offenders to justice. Therefore Nigeria’s criminal justice system needs immediate overhauling. If crime investigation is carried out expeditiously, if suspects and witnesses are brought to court on hearing days, if there is no executive interference in the trial of high-profile criminal cases, and if criminal cases are not adjourned endlessly, many human and organ traffickers will be successfully prosecuted in court and brought to justice.
This conference was organized by an umbrella NGO, Foundation for African Cultural Heritage (FACH). Doctors Health Initiative is part of FACH.