|N'balou, 10, stands in the port where she lives and works, in Conakry, Guinea. Many children there are orphans trafficked from Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone.|
By Anthony Mwangi
ABUJA, Nigeria, 8 April 2010 – An estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked worldwide each year for sexual exploitation and cheap labor. Child trafficking is a multi-billion-dollar industry that affects every country in the world – either as a source of trafficked children or a destination for them – and the global economic crisis has only exacerbated this grave violation of human rights.
In Western and Central Africa, as in other regions, extreme poverty can create conditions that are conducive to trafficking. In response, African Union (AU) leaders and international experts met recently to launch a new campaign against human trafficking – with a special focus on women and children, who are the worst affected.
Links to poverty and gender
“Trafficking of persons in the western Africa region is linked to poverty, large family size, lack of education opportunities, unemployment, low status of children and women, and ignorance,” said H.E. James Victor Gbeho, President of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) during the AU Commission and ECOWAS regional launch of their new initiative against trafficking in human persons.
|A police officer (right) from the Brigade for the Protection of Minors stops a man and girl crossing the border between Kraké, in Benin, and Sèmè, in Nigeria.|
The campaign, launched during a 24-26 March 2010 meeting and workshop in Abuja, Nigeria, is also known as ‘AU Commit.’ It focuses on implementing the Ouagadougou Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings, Especially Women and Children – a plan adopted by world leaders in 2006 with ‘actionable measures’ to protect those at risk of trafficking. The recent workshop included representatives from the ECOWAS Member States, the Regional Economic Communities of the African Union, and UN agencies, including UNICEF.
“Trafficking characteristics are intertwined with violence chiefly directed at the female gender,” UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons Joy Ngozi Ezeilo said during the meeting.
She added that trafficking shares the underlying causes of violence against women and girls, including unequal power relations, discrimination, feminization of poverty, sexual objectification and the prevalence of gender stereotypes.
More convictions, more rescues
Despite the insidious roots of human trafficking, participants at the AU Commit launch noted that some strides have been made in protecting those most vulnerable.
H.E. Bience Gawanas, the AU Commissioner for Social Affairs, said that the number of countries enacting anti-trafficking legislation has more than doubled in recent years. And at the 10th anniversary of the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children – adopted in 2000 in Palermo, Italy – 43 out of 53 AU Member States have now ratified it.
“More and more convictions of traffickers have been made, and more trafficked persons rescued,” said Ms. Gawanas. She went on to pint out that Nigeria ratified the Palermo Protocol in 2001 and domesticated it by enacting a local legislation in 2003. The country is one of the very few in the world with specific national legislation criminalizing human trafficking.
“Human trafficking has decreased in Nigeria,” said Abdullahi Yola, Solicitor-General of the Nigerian Government. “Moreover, we implemented several bilateral and multi-lateral treaties, including regional and inter-regional action plans in combating human trafficking.”
As many people trafficked from Africa are detected in Europe and other parts of the world, human trafficking is now one of the top priorities of the African-European Union partnership on Migration, Mobility and Employment, as well as other international partnerships.
However, many experts believe that further cooperation is needed.
Child trafficking usually occurs within a wider regional context and can only be effectively combated by strengthening regional and cross-border mechanisms, including prevention and response agreements, and cross-border monitoring – plus medical, psycho-social and repatriation assistance.
The involvement of rural elders, urban community groups, women and youth, trade unions and media is also essential.