Melissa (not her real name), who is in her 20s, was trafficked to the United Kingdom, UK, to work for a Nigerian woman in London as a domestic slave. From the age of 10, she was made to clean the kitchen, sell food at a market, feed and bathe other children, go to school and do her homework. She was beaten regularly, and locked in her room if she answered back.
She said: “I know that this sounds unbelievable and the reason it sounds unbelievable is because, you know, who does that to someone?” I don’t understand the hatred because that’s how I feel-hated. I felt I didn’t do anything to deserve that and at some point, I actually thought I was the one that was the problem, that there’s something about me that’s making her do that to me.”
Melissa’s story represents that of thousands of other Nigerian women, youths and children daily trafficked to Europe, Asia, America, Africa and other parts of the world to engage in forced labour, prostitution and other crimes.
Research published by the UK Home Office in 2015 stated that between 10,000 and 13,000 potential victims of slavery are trafficked to the UK annually with majority coming from Nigeria.
Most shocking was the revelation by the Executive Secretary, National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (NAPTIP), Mrs. Beatrice Jedy-Agba that many Nigerians are being trafficked to Saudi Arabia under the guise of going on holy pilgrimage to Mecca, and about 50,000 other girls, aged between 9 and 17, have been trafficked for sexual exploitation in brothels within Nigeria.
Many Nigerian women and children, according to her, are trafficked to African and European countries annually, stressing that about 60 percent of the prostitutes in Turin in Italy and Antwerp in Belgium for instance, are known to be Nigerian women and girls.
In Nigeria, trafficking of girls to Western Europe, particularly Italy, started about the 1970s. At that time, some Nigerian women who could not meet their financial obligations to their Italian creditors, offered themselves in return. They later started recruiting young girls when they were getting old and could not cope. They also discovered that it was a lucrative business and encouraged others too.
However, the menace of Trafficking in Persons, TIP, came to limelight in Nigeria in the 1980s and assumed centre stage in national and internal discourse in the late 1990s.
Its high occurrence in the country has made Nigeria to be classified as a source, transit and destination country. Women and children who are the most vulnerable groups are trafficked internally and externally for economic and sexual exploitation, such as prostitution, forced labour, domestic servitude, alms begging, drug trade, child soldier, forced marriage, organ transplant, etc.
Internally, women and children are trafficked from rural communities to urban centers for exploitation. Nigerian women, girls and boys are trafficked in large numbers to North Africa, Saudi Arabia and Europe mainly Italy, France, Spain, The Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Norway and in small numbers to the United States and Asia for sexual exploitation and domestic servitude. Women, girls and boys are trafficked from neighboring countries like Chad, Niger Republic, Benin Republic, Togo and Ghana to Nigeria for begging, prostitution, domestic servitude, armed conflict, and labour exploitation. It is estimated that about 750,000 to one million persons are trafficked annually in Nigeria and that over 75 percent of those trafficked are moved across the states, 23 percent are trafficked within states while 2 percent are trafficked outside the country.
A recent dimension to the problem of human trafficking is the issue of child-soldiers in war-torn countries of the world. As at 2001, at least 300,000 children under eighteen years of age were estimated to be engaged in fighting wars, many of who were in fact under fifteen years old.
Another twist to human trafficking is the recent emergence of a lucrative business in human organs in Europe. Some young children taken abroad as house-helps could end up being sold for organ transplant if relations should turn sour between them and their employers.
The Cable Network News (CNN) anchored a programme in 2002 which carried the bizarre news of some couples in the Scandinavian countries advertising their female children for prostitution on the internet. Whichever way it is perceived, human trafficking remains an illegal multi-billion dollar global business. Human trafficking for prostitution could be stopped by the collaborative efforts of the government, N.G.Os, Religious bodies and the public.
Governments at all levels need to address the issue of unemployment by giving priority to job creation policies and programmes in order to reduce the pressure on Nigerians to travel abroad for job hunting.
In order for the government to empower Nigerian youths economically, it should aggressively pursue poverty alleviation programmes. The equitable distribution of our resources from the highest level to the grassroots is imperative so as to promote a sense of belonging and patriotism while discouraging the urge to engage in human trafficking.
Furthermore, the Federal Government needs to sanitise the Immigration Department and other border security operatives who collaborate with the traffickers. The same measures that were used which led to the drastic reduction in drug trafficking in the 1980s should also be employed to stamp out human trafficking and make Nigeria a value-based society that respects human rights and dignity.