New Telegraph

Story Of Nigerian Child And Trafficking

We were given food twice daily and made to work for 12 hours every day –Victim

It is shameful that in the 21st Century the evil crime of servitude lurks in every corner of the globe. Of the estimated 46 million people living in modern slavery across the world, Nigeria is believed to have a large chunk of them, who had been trafficked, coerced, or forced into terrible exploitation, labour, and domestic vassalage. In this report, ISIOMA MADIKE tells the story of the barbaric crime, a trade, which earns more for criminals than any other, apart from the illegal drug business

 

Steven, 32, is from Idumu-Ogo in Aniocha North Local Government Area of Delta State. He had been trafficked around the world. He was first moved across countries of Africa such as Mali, Senegal and Libya before he was taken to Eastern Europe and later to Australia, where he worked as househelp and on farm lands. As a house help, Steven was not remunerated.

He said: “The madam, who facilitated my journey to the unknown, said she was saving the money for me. She had made an arrangement with my masters to be paying directly to her. In Australia, it was almost the same thing as ‘our master’, though promised to be paying us an equivalent of N280,000 per month, he never released the money to us.

“We were 52 from Nigeria that worked for him on his farm. We were housed on the farm for the period of two years that I was there and never had anything to do with the outside world. He only promised to release our money anytime we were ready to return to Nigeria.

We were given food two times in a day and made to work for 12 hours every day with a 45-minute break interval. “One day, the man called in police and alleged that we were stealing his farm produce and secretly sending the same back to Nigeria.

He also alleged that we connived to steal about $240,000 he kept in a safe on the farm. That was how we were bundled into a lorry used in carrying farm produce straight to the airport and deported back. “What we went through was worse than the slavery we read about in our elementary history.

It was horrible to say the least.” With what he went through, Steven has vowed to one day challenge the cultural acceptance of human exploitation for young Nigerians, who often end up trapped in abusive trade.

“I would also challenge families who continually encourage their children to risk their lives in search of money and a better future,” he added. There are some like Steven, who were taken to other Nigerian towns and villages to work where they were paid peanuts. Many of them were taken to the South West to work on farms as labourers and as house help. There have also been reports of many in a remote location in Ondo State.

They have been labouring away for years in an expansive cocoa plantation. They can neither read nor write except to communicate in their native dialects, though some of them manage to speak Pidgin English as well.

The boys live from the handouts offered by their “masters” who have arranged for their departures to the “Promised Lands”. “Now the land is cursing us, and we want to return home, but it is becoming increasingly difficult,” said one of them amidst sobs, through an interpreter. These hapless children, seen as a great asset to the family and the community, have been trafficked internally, becoming labourers in another man’s empire.

Yet, what Steven and others were made to go through starts with the promise of a better life. The parents are taken in and the children are persuaded. When they leave home they do so willingly, with some excitement, not fear. The traffickers often promise a good job, schooling, and regular income.

But that is not how it works out. The boys are not the only ones taken in as slaves in this modern time. For the young girls, the word on the streets is “hustling”. When they land in their destinations, they are taken to the sex markets and sold to bosses or madams.

From testimonies of some of the “freed slaves”, according to Joseph Famakin, former Zonal Commander, National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), Lagos, they are not paid; they are the ones that are indebted to their madams.

Those that were trafficked to Europe for instance, were bonded to the tune of $60,000 to $65,000 before they could regain their freedom, Famakin said. By a simple arithmetic, $60,000 to $65,000, means that such a girl, trafficked to Europe is bonded to the tune of over N48 million, which she has to pay with her body.

For those trafficked to Dubai, they are bonded to the tune of about $30,000, which is over N24 million at the current exchange rate; same for those in Russia, Oman, and other oil rich Arab countries. However, most of the girl prostitutes are on rented portions of roads, and their clients often sleep with them in the bush or in their cars. They make daily returns to their bosses or madams who usually employ the services of cult members to enforce compliance.

Also, the girls are expected to pay a certain amount of money to their madams per month to rent the roadside spot where they wait for clients in extreme weather conditions. They are equally expected to contribute a certain amount each on a weekly basis for their feeding and buying of provocative clothing.

“When we don‘t earn the money our madams want, they would press a hot iron on our chests,” one of the rescued victims told our reporter. Others died on the streets of these foreign lands while prostituting. Another of such “freed slave” who also does not want her name mentioned, said her case was very complicated. She wept profusely when narrating her ordeal to Saturday Telegraph with tears sliding down her cheeks.

In her own case, she was offered a job in Holland. She signed a paper in which she would repay the airfare. She left two children with relatives and said she would send money frequently based on the promise of those who sold her. When she got to Holland, she was imprisoned in a flat, and forced to work as a prostitute.

She was paid nothing and had a terrible time. But she was worried about her children. After some time, she escaped and lived for a while as a homeless prostitute on the streets. She later found she was pregnant.

By the time she returned to Nigeria she discovered she had contract- ed the deadly Human Immuno Virus (HIV). She has been managing to stay positive with the attendant discrimination from relatives and friends who now treat her like an outcast. On June 14, NAPTIP said no fewer than 25,000 trafficked Nigerian women and girls are trapped in Mali.

The Commander of the Benin Zone of NAPTIP, Nduka Nwanwenne, gave the figure at a workshop organised for media professionals in Lagos, according to Punch report. The News Agency of Nigeria had also reported that the workshop was to develop the capacities of the participants in creating awareness about the dangers of human trafficking.

Nwanwenne had said: “NAPTIP’s investigation into this category of victims revealed that they were attracted to Malian men because they spend more money on women compared to Nigerian men. “The second major reason is that Malian men are proud of sleeping with women from Nigeria, the giant of Africa.”

Also, NAPTIP Director General, Prof. Fatima Waziri-Azi, had identified Libya, the United Arab Emirates, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, and India as the top five countries that Nigerians are trafficked to in the world.

Waziri-Azi disclosed this, according to reports, during the inaugural Joints Technical Working Group meeting on a memorandum signed between Nigeria and The Gambia to prevent, suppress, and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children.

“Top countries where Nigerians are trafficked in order of scale include Libya, the United Arab Emirates, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, and India. In 2022, as an agency, we received 1,440 reported cases, of which 412 were external trafficking cases and 1,028 were internal trafficking cases,” Waziri-Azi had said. She had added: “We rescued and received 2,743 victims, out of which 1,454 were female adults, 688 were female children, 363 were male adults, and 233 were male children.

Victims of human trafficking were 45; returned victims from outside Nigeria were 251; and intercepted victims from various border points were 1,484. “Top on the list of reasons for trafficking in persons was sexual exploitation, followed by labour exploitation and domestic servitude. As a country, we have scaled our efforts to tackle this crime through our five broad strategic approaches of prevention, protection, prosecution, partnership, and policy.”

Before now, over 4,723 of these “slaves” returned from different countries to Nigeria. Of this number, Famakin said 459 were taken to NAPTIP’s shelter. He also gave a breakdown of victims’ statistics.

He said that 417 comprising 91 males and 326 females were literally set free from captivity. For 2016 it was 502, with 19 males and 223 females while as at September of that year, it was 581, making a total of 1, 500.

From investigations, it was discovered that the root cause of the phenomenon of trafficking into slavery is poverty, ignorance, greed and in some taken from their homes to be put to work. Some go with the permission of their parents, while others do not.

Many, especially boys who may be as young as five or six, end up as household slaves far from home, or as agricultural workers, where they earn little or nothing. Some, especially the younger ones, die as a result; others end up with terrible scars, both physical and psychological.

The girls, who are taken, may end up in domestic service, but many become prostitutes, perhaps in Cote d’Ivoire or Gabon, but increasingly in Europe, particularly in Italy, where a well-organised criminal network distributes them to major cities like Rome, Florence and Turin. Those are the lucky ones, who reach their destinations safely. But they often do so after encountering untold hardships on the way. The unlucky ones perish enroute their destinations.

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