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U. Ebele: Human Trafficking - A Modern-Day Slavery

UPF-Nigeria organized a roundtable interactive discussion at the National Merit Award House in Abuja on March 27 to commemorate the United Nations Day of Remembrance of Slavery Victims. The following are excerpts of a PowerPoint presented by Mrs. Ulasi Ebele, National Agency for Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and Other Related Matters, Abuja, Nigeria.

Human trafficking is a complex activity that usually requires a group of criminal accomplices working together to achieve the ultimate purpose of producing a continuing stream of income from exploitation of vulnerable persons. It is one of the fastest growing areas of international criminal activity, according to the United Nations. It often involves a number of different crimes, spanning several countries, and involving an increasing number of victims. It can be compared to a modern day form of slavery involving the exploitation of people through force, coercion, threat, and deception. It also includes human rights abuses such as debt bondage, deprivation of liberty, and lack of control over freedom and labor.

Also known as trafficking in persons, it was relatively unknown in Nigeria and most of Africa until about the late 1990s. Globally, however, it dates back to the Trans-Saharan and Trans-Atlantic slave trade era, where millions of Africans were taken into slavery to far-away lands. It was relatively unknown because some of the conditions that constitute human trafficking were common that many saw them as part of normal life.

Before the late 1990s, victims of the scourge of human trafficking were seen as prostitutes or illegal migrants that were justifiably deported back home. On arrival in Nigeria, victims were treated as criminals within the country; victims were perceived as either prostitutes for those kept in the brothels or as misfortune underprivileged individuals. Children were being exploited as cheap laborers in homes, farms, and industrial and construction sites.  

From 2000 things began to change. In 2000, the United Nations adopted an International Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (TOC) and its Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children.

Nigeria as a responsible Nation signed and ratified the United Nations Trans-National Organized Crime (TOC) convention and the Supplementing Protocol. This Protocol was subsequently domesticated through an Act of Parliament known as the Trafficking in Persons (Prohibition) Law Enforcement and Administration Act, 2003 as amended in 2005. The Act established the National Agency for Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and Other Related Matters (NAPTIP) as Nigeria’s focal Agency in the fight against Trafficking in Persons.

Trafficking in persons was first defined in International law through the UN Protocol also known as the Palermo Protocol:

‘Trafficking in persons (TIP) shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of 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 giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation’

“All acts and attempted acts involved in the recruitment, transportation within or across Nigerian borders, purchase, sale, transfer, receipts or harboring 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 reproductive) in forced or bonded labor, or in slavery–like conditions’’

The process of trafficking begins with the abduction or recruitment of a person and continues with the transportation. In case of transnational trafficking, the process continues with the entry of the individual into another country. This is followed by the exploitation phase during which the victim is forced into sexual work, forced servitude or personnel for other criminal purposes. This includes violence against the victim.

A further phase occurs that does not involve the victim but the offender. Depending on the size and sophistication of the trafficking operation, the criminal (organization) may find it necessary to launder the criminal proceeds. There may be further links to other criminal offenses such as the smuggling of migrants, weapons or drugs.

Recruitment: by threat, coercion, abduction, deceit
Transportation: by aircraft, boat, rail, ferry, road, on foot
Exploitation: sexual exploitation, forced labor, domestic servitude; forced marriage; removal of organs, street begging, etc.

Factors encouraging human trafficking:

• Poverty
• Harmful social realities
• Desire to earn a living
• Greed
• Ignorance/illiteracy
• Parental neglect/loss of cultural & family values
• Peer pressure
• Adult male “conspiracy” against women and children
• Lack of opportunities/ unemployment
• Globalization
• Conflicts


•High profits
•Low risks
•The strength of foreign currencies
•Need for low-skilled labor
•Desire for economic stability

Labor exploitation

Human beings, especially women and children, are trafficked into a range of exploitative practices.

Exploitative labor: Plantations, in mines, quarries or in other hazardous conditions, such as handling chemicals and pesticides or operating dangerous machines. They are kept isolated within destination countries and are fearful of reporting the abusive work conditions to authorities

Bonded labor: In certain cases, children are trafficked into bonded labor. The family typically receives an advance payment, often structured so that ‘expenses’ or ‘interest’ are deducted from a child’s earnings in such amounts that it is nearly impossible to repay the debt or ‘buy back’ the child. ILO estimates that the majority are girls. Parents and children are often lured by promises of education or a good job. Once trafficked, stripped of their identification papers & locked up, they are dependent on their exploiters for safety, food and shelter, and most endure harsh working conditions without benefits such as health care.

Domestic workers: 80 million or 41% of African Children work, most being girls between 5-14 engaged in domestic work

Sexual exploitation: Trafficked victims work in brothels, massage parlors, prostitution rings or strip clubs, or used to produce pornographic materials. Though it is difficult to determine precisely, ILO global child labor figures for the year 2000 estimate that 1.8 million children are exploited in the commercial sex industry. US govt. estimate said 600, 000 – 800, 000 were trafficked in 2003. 80% of the US estimate were females and 70% were trafficked for sexual exploitation. There are over 50, 000 girls working in the European/Italian Sex Industry (e.g., Tampep contacted 749 Nigerian girls in Turin, Italy, between November 2002 to December 2003)

Military conscription: Child soldiers play roles in more than 30 ongoing or recent armed conflicts in almost every region of the world. Some children join fighting forces due to poverty or forcibly recruited or abducted. Children’s roles in conflicts vary. Used as messengers, porters, cooks, ‘wives’ who provide sexual services or as combatants. Children are most vulnerable to recruitment. Human Rights Watch estimated that there are 300, 000 Child Soldiers Worldwide, 120, 000 are found in Africa.

Marriage: Girls are trafficked as brides - a family survival strategy. Sometimes, the arrangements made by male migrants to find wives from their home regions result in the trafficking of child brides.

Early marriage to avoid AIDS: Early marriage is common in Central and Western Africa, where 40 per cent and 49 per cent, respectively, of girls under the age of 19 are affected. There is a growing demand by older men for a young virgin bride, particularly in places where the fear and risk of HIV/AIDS infection is high. The belief in some areas that sleeping with a virgin girl will cure AIDS

Illicit adoption: An increase in demand for adoption has helped to propel the unlawful trafficking of babies and young children. Sometimes mothers from developing countries sell their baby or young child, at other times the infant is stolen and mothers are told the baby was stillborn.

Sports: Children, particularly young boys, have been trafficked as camel jockeys. The sport is a lucrative industry, and children are especially appealing for this purpose because of their small size. The use of children as jockeys in camel racing is extremely dangerous and can result in serious injury and even death. Boys who lose races are often brutalized by their exploiters, deprived of their salary and food, and mentally and physically abused.

Nigeria through the activities of NAPTIP and its partners has been lauded by the international community in the way and manner with which the fight against human trafficking is being tackled. All hands must therefore, be on deck to ensure that we do not go back to Egypt as it were. The future of our next generation is in our hands to determine and our working together will ensure that that future remains bright.