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Human trafficking entails a tripartite act, means and purpose. It is the act of recruitment, transport, transfer. Harbouring, receipt of any person through the means of deception, force, fraud, the threat for the purpose of exploitation. It is a heinous crime, the World Wide Web network makes it highly complex to identify and track perpetrators. The United Nations estimates it to generate $32bn, making it to be the third-largest illegal activity in the world after drugs and arms trafficking. Hence, it is a global threat, necessitating a global response. Nigeria, the largest and most populous country (about 200 million) in subSaharan Africa, occupies a central position as a country of origin, transit and destination for crime. The country is on the Tier 2 Watch List (countries not meeting minimum acceptable standards of combatting trafficking, but making efforts to do so). In the Trafficking Profile for Nigeria, reported over the past five years, internal trafficking is prevalent by recruiting victims from rural areas to urban centres.

Women and children are used as victims of forced labour as domestic workers and in sex trafficking. Boys are used in mining, quarrying, manufacturing, agriculture and begging. Nigerians are recruited and transported to North Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East including Saudi Arabia, Oman and the United Arab Emirates and exploited in forced labour and sex trafficking (Department of State, United States of America Trafficking in Persons Report, 2020). The effect of trafficking on the victims is harrowing. It degrades human dignity and debases the moral fabric of society. The social ecology of human trafficking is linked with factors such as exposure to physical and emotional violence, communicable diseases, starvation, torture and at times death (Banovica and Bjelejac “Traumatic Experiences Psychosocial Consequences and the needs of Human Trafficking Persons”. 2012). They suffer from Post-Trauma Stress Disorder, anxiety, depression, disorientation (Zimmermanet al, “Health Risks and Consequences of Trafficking Women and Adolescents”, 2003).

In many instances, they are subjected to stigmatisation within their communities, find reintegration difficult and are prone to trafficking in an unending chain (Iyabode Ogunniran, “Anti-Human Trafficking: A Critique of the Legal Framework in Nigeria,” 2015). Globally, there are concerted efforts and responses to combat trafficking. For instance, in 2013, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed July 30 as the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons. The aim was to “raise awareness of the situation of victims of human trafficking and for the promotion and protection of their rights” (A/ RES/68/192). Towards that objective, this year’s theme is titled, “Victims’ Voices Lead the Way”, which is quite noteworthy. The World Day Against Trafficking in Persons 2021 puts victims of human trafficking at the centre of the campaign and highlights the importance of listening and learning from survivors.

This is significant in three ways: first, their stories and experiences could be turned to concrete actions for preventive measures. Secondly, it can be a veritable source for identifying and rescuing other victims. The third is using such stories to understand and support them. As warned by Bella Hounakey, survivor and member of the United States Advisor Council on Human Trafficking, this must include meaningful collaboration with survivors to inform the design and implementation of the very policies and programmes that affect them. Arguably, the thrust of this year’s theme is adopting a victim-centred approach to combatting the scourge. In Nigeria, several pieces of legislation prohibit different forms of human trafficking. Most importantly in this regard is the Trafficking in Persons Prohibition and Enforcement and Administration Act 2015. It prosecutes/penalises traffickers in persons and protects the Victims of Trafficking (VoTs) by providing that they are not to be subjected to discrimination on account of gender, sex, age, language, including their status of having worked in a sex industry; adequate access to health and other social services; safety is guaranteed; privacy is protected and respect for their dignity and where circumstances so justify, they should not be detained, imprisoned or prosecuted for offences relating to being VoTs, including not possessing a valid travel stay amongst others.

It creates a Victim’s Trust Fund to pay compensation, restitution and damages as well as support services for VoTs. In 2020, the International Organisation for Migration (leading organisation in the area of migration and human trafficking) equally responded to curtailing the blight in Nigeria through a victim-centred approach. The organisation established three hubs in Lagos, Edo and Delta to strengthen access to justice for VoTs. The Anti-Human Trafficking Legal Hub (Lagos) is a platform to enhance the collaboration of relevant government ministries, legal experts, academia, Non-Governmental organisations and developmental partners to provide services for VoTs. The legal hub assists VoTs in pursuing civil remedies in court and offers psycho-social support.

It engages in advocacy and awareness creation; training and development, as well as researches on issues of trafficking. As we ponder on this year’s World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, the perpetrators continue to exploit the vulnerability of people in different countries due to poverty and unemployment amongst others; leveraging technology to enhance sophisticated networks. Conversely, the government, international organisations, relevant NGOs and concerned stakeholders must develop comprehensive victim-centred responses to human trafficking. These include victim identification; assessment of risks; protective measures for victim-witnesses; protecting victims’ rights; skills acquisition, economic empowerment and mutual legal assistance with other countries.

Dr Ogunniran is an Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Lagos and the Co-coordinator, Anti-Human Trafficking Legal Hub, Faculty of Law, University of Lagos.


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